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Why is Traceability in Food Important and What Should the Consumer be Asking About Food Safety?

Traceability or product tracing is defined as “the ability to follow the movement of food through specified stage(s) of production, processing, and distribution”.  This definition is provided by Codex Alimentarius Commission in its ‘Food Code’ called Codex Alimentarius, which is a set of guidelines, standards, and codes of practice.

Complexity of Food Supply Chain
Traceability in a food supply chain is considered to be of prime importance due to the complexity of the supply chain.  This is not to imply that the chain is a complicated one, but rather that there are inter-dependencies and inter-connectedness, where each stage is so inter-related, even a slight change at any stage will affect all the stages, and this is where complexity arises.
Complexity also arises from the fact that a supply chain comprises several business partners who could be directly in touch with each other or indirectly through another partner.  They are all collaborating, sharing financial flow, materials, and information.  
Generally, a supply chain has to manage several internal as well as external factors that cause complexity in the supply chain and arise for several different sources.  Some of these sources would be information, organisation, supplier, customer, product, range, process, or network.

Traceability is Essential for Consumer Safety

What is Traceability? 
Traceability refers to the ability to track the movement, both forward and backward, of a food product and the associated ingredients through every step of the supply chain.  So, in effect, traceability is tracking of a product right from production to sale.

Traceability requires documenting and linking of the various stages of production, processing, and the distribution chain of a food product and its ingredients. 

Take the example of such food that has the ability to cause a contamination event or even an outbreak of a food-borne illness.  If there has been efficient tracing of the product, it will enable quick pinpointing of the source of the product and where it was possibly contaminated. With this information in hand, it will become quicker to remove the contaminated product from the marketplace and reduce the harm it could have caused. 

Food regulations have enforced the requirement for the food industry to set up systems for maintaining records of one step back (immediate previous source) and one step forward (where food has gone). Implementing these requirements will put in place a baseline traceability recordkeeping all along with the food supply system. Still, such records are also not effective enough to rapidly and effectively associate food shipments along every stage of the food supply chain. 

There is a need to put in place a contemporary, coordinated plan for traceability that is easily understood and implementable for every point in the supply chain.  In the current times, a lot of research and development is underway to achieve this.  The technologies being experimented with are distributed application structures and Ethereum based blockchain platforms. This tremendous effort, when it succeeds, will greatly ensure a reduction in foodborne illness; it will further consumers’ trust and prevent product recalls.

Why is Traceability Important? 
Any consumable, such as cereal, baby food, or medicine, can seriously compromise health if it happens to be a defective product.  Suppose that such consumables can be tracked all the way down the supply chain (traceability); it will enable brand owners to zero-in on the defective batch and know where the defect arose during the supply process.  Based on such information, various decisions can be taken by the brand owners, including the decision to recall a product.  If traceability is in place, the brand will be able to manage faster product recall if required.
In every sense, the food industry is global, sourcing ingredients and even final products from all across the world.  Even a single product could have a highly complex supply chain, and due to this, for various sectors, traceability has become a legal requirement. 
There are three major benefits associated with traceability 
  • Increased visibility in the supply chain 
  • Risk reduction and 
  • Better systems for quality control
If there is a full record of the production and distribution history of a product, any issue that arises can be quickly handled by the suppliers. If there needs to be a product recall, suppliers are ready with the knowledge of which specific batch of a product and from where it has to be removed. The consumers are saved from using a product that could have proven dangerous, and the supplier is saved from any legal action that could have accrued. 
Another reason why traceability is important is because it can help prove some product attributes, such as country of origin and the product’s ethical credentials. This provides the consumers with greater awareness associated with ethical manufacturing, and this transparency of the supplier will be valued by the consumer. 

Consumer and Product Traceability

From Deloitte’s Consumer Food Value Equation survey, it was revealed that 62 per cent of food buyers look for transparency before they purchase a product. 

Consumers in the present times are conscious of what they consume, such as the freshness of the product, cruelty-free production process, ingredients, and the handling of the product.  While some of the information related to the product is available on the product label, a lot of information regarding the origin of the product, the manufacturing process, the supply chain for the product, its transportation, etc., are not available. This is where the traceability of the product plays a major role. 

For consumers to see transparency in the food supply chain, traceability is essential as this builds up their faith in the supplier, and the supplier is seen as reliable.  This can improve brand image and boost buyer confidence. 

An increase in the quantity and quality of information about products which is available to the consumer with enforcement of traceability has also increased consumer dependence on such information.  Traceability has become a means that ensures the best product is reaching the consumer. 

Traceability in the food supply chain has the potential of providing transparency, efficacy, and structure to the food supply chain. With food regulations enforcing requirements for the food industry to have a system to maintain records of one step back (immediate previous source) and one step forward (where food has gone), traceability has become more accessible. Consumers can make informed decisions between the various options available to them because they are now working with food traceability.  In case of the suppliers, with the implementation of thorough and well-thought-out traceability systems across supply chains, they are in a position to surpass the expectations of the consumers and keep a keen eye on the quality of their own products.

Tracs is Blockchain as a solution (BAAS) and one of the most simple solution to provide your traceable product story. TRACS records critical events during a product journey on Ethereum and makes it available as a story form for your audience. Since the events are on Blockchain, it cannot be altered. This record is a seal of trust that the producer has in his products and that the producer is confident enough to provide the records to his consumers to see.
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