Food traceability is the process by which food products and ingredients can be traced throughout the supply chain from the farm/point of production, through processing, manufacturing, distribution and to the end stage of consumption. Food traceability is an important aspect of food production because it allows the government, food manufacturers and the consumer to know exactly where their food has come from, especially when there is a food borne disease outbreak.
In the mid-1980s, an unprecedented incident popularly referred to as Mad Cow Disease occurred in Great Britain. People got sick from consuming contaminated beef products and were hospitalized. Findings showed that this disease originated from herds that were being fed processed animal remains of sheep infected with scrapie (a related brain-wasting disease); this fact would have been almost impossible to determine without a food traceability system.
Possible mislabelling and food contamination, resulting in food poisoning and food-borne disease outbreaks, further demonstrates the importance of food traceability. There is a pressing need for an effective and efficient food traceability system to deal with any increase in reported cases of food contamination, scandals, misrepresentations or food related accidents.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), “Traceability is the ability to track the movement of food or a food commodity, both forward and backward, due to the rise in agricultural exports and imports, reported cases of food recalls, food adulteration.”
Reliable traceability is a CFIA requirement. Its objectives include :
- To determine the identity of the food product, which foods could be unsafe, and where a potentially harmful product has been distributed.
- To trace the food step-by-step back to the supplier.
- To trace the food step-by-step forward to the customer to whom the product was sold.
- To identify and trace the ingredients and the derived meat product used to make the food.
- To identify the root cause of the problem.
A robust traceability system can reduce the time required to trace a product. By replacing old methods of traceability with new technology and databases, access to information about food products can take place in a timely manner. The use of the bar code on food products and radio frequency identification (RFID) are the newest methods for doing this.
These applications help consumers, retailers and manufacturers who are interested know exactly where foods have come from. This information helps if there are food borne disease outbreaks or major recalls. It allows for easier and quicker traceback of the products, making the supply chain more effective and visible.
Another purpose of food traceability is to help improve food processing safety. With the coded labels on fruits, vegetables and other packaged products, it is possible to identify the grower, where the food is from, and also the date and time the food was packaged.
For example, Figure 3 above shows fresh red cherry tomato that are then processed to produce tomato products such as canned tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato ketchup, tomato paste, tomato puree, tomato sauce and many others. This great commodity makes its journey through the supply chain from the farm all the way through to the consumer.
In other words, food traceability helps identify raw materials up to the point where they are turned into processed foods. It is possible to know where the foodwas grown and produced, and with that information, consumer can make more informed decisions to maximize quality, freshness, and nutritional value.
Canadian legislation is based on international standards, established by the Codex Alimentarius. This convention helps bridge the gap between businesses by allowing tracking of food forward to the final customer and back through the immediate supplier.
Traceability requirements apply to any businesses that:
- import food
- export food
- distribute or send food products across provincial or territorial borders
- manufacture, process, treat, preserve, grade, store, package or label food to be exported or sent across provincial or territorial borders
- grow and harvest fresh fruits or vegetables to be exported or sent across provincial or territorial borders
slaughter food animals from which meat products are derived, where the meat product is exported or sent across provincial or territorial borders
- store and handle edible meat products in their imported condition for inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
- sell food to consumers at retail, which would need to be traced one step back but not forward to the consumer.
A recent recall: Ottawa, March 26, 2021 – North Shore Specialty Foods is recalling Kolapore Springs brand smoked trout products from the marketplace because they may permit the growth of Clostridium botulinum.
One emerging technology in food traceability is called blockchain traceability. The blockchain works by networking within each block. Once information is put in any of the blocks, it cannot be altered without altering the information in every other block. This ensures the safety and accuracy in the block chain. Food traceability systems based on block chain have already been implemented by Walmart.
This new traceability application records the origin of the farm, batch number, where and how the product is processed, expiry dates, and shipping.
With this method, Walmart can now trace food products step-by-step back through the supply chain. This method can also be used to reduce food waste because with block chain records, it’s easy to identify and isolate unsafe products in the event of a recall rather than throwing away the entire food product line.
In the era of Covid, there is another new emerging technology in food traceability, advanced X-ray inspection for a remote option in food safety. This is a form of virtual product testing, X-ray inspection can take place during different segments of food production and processing, from inspection of raw material entering the system, through product creation and shaping, all the way to the end of the line at point of sale in the store.
In conclusion, effective traceability systems can help eliminate food borne contamination and food fraud, and in turn reduce food borne illnesses in society.