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Lessons to learn in food traceability: Why is Alaska leading the way?

Posted by Dawn Aldwinckle on August 5th, 2013

ERP software, food software, Fish Processing, Wrangell, Alaska

With the rise of food scandals, many lessons can be learned from taking a look at best practice for product traceability – such as the protected origins of fish from Alaska. Knowing the product journey from source to shelf is increasingly driven by customer demand since the latest food outrages seen across the globe.

China, for example, was recently the victim of a range of problems, including milk contaminated with an industrial chemical used to dyes in eggs. The country has struggled to clean up its food supply chain.

Perhaps most shocking was the discovery that Chinese gangs were selling fox, mink and rat meat as lamb. The Chinese authorities eventually intervened, with the Supreme Court confirming that over 2,000 people were prosecuted in 2010-2012 in over 1,500 food safety cases.

Even more alarming, is that the number of food scandals in China has soared rather than declined in recent years. Chinese courts prosecuted 861 cases of poisonous food in 2012, compared to 80 cases just two years earlier. This tenfold increase could be due to increased tightening of regulations, or more lax food safety in the production process.

Horsegate: UK brand damage and the loss of consumer faith

In the UK, consumer confidence never dropped further than when public revelations about horsemeat being used in meat products emerged.

For a gargantuan and trusted chain such as Tesco to be stocking products containing horse DNA, consumers really lost faith in their food, with an estimated £300million wiped off their market value.

The damage to the British food and beverage industry could be colossal should any similar such scandal be revealed. The entire food supply chain should now demonstrate how sourcing and production control is tightened by providing greater visibility over their product origins to restore public faith in the food industry. The strict visibility required for Alaska’s protected origins for fish gives other food suppliers a prime example to follow. Alaskan fish products must be sourced, stored and packaged separately from non-Alaskan products: the rigorous controls in place give both food manufacturer and consumer confidence in the product they purchase.

What do consumers want from food production companies?

Full transparency is required, right to the very source of the food: consumers are currently scared of which meats to buy – ”The farm to fork concept has been broken and we need to fix it!” – said Poultry Council representative, Alo Mohan at a recent 12th annual World Poultry conference, 2013, Brussels.

After all, any food production company should share equal concerns with their customer as to where their food has come from:Some things consumers are keen to know about their food:

  • Have the animals been ethically treated?
  • Has any raw material been tampered with?
  • Or indeed, is the processed meat from the correct animal?

UK customers are not just dubious of imported produce, particularly meat: there are growing worries about the source of meat reared in their own country. At the World Poultry conference, Chris Hill of Cargo Meats Europe said: “In the past, people were completely ignorant about the finished product that was delivered to them, but consumers are now saying they want to be more sure about where their food comes from. They are using ‘local’ as a metaphor for security of the supply chain.” This is where food distribution software becomes a vital tool.

Solving the food industry problem with traceability

With this context in mind food production and wholesale companies of all sizes now have an increased requirement to go beyond traditional stock control. Full traceability of products from a software perspective entails recording detailed information at batch level and ensuring this information can be accessed and output at any stage in the product lifecycle.

Should any issues arise that would result in a product recall, the system should enable immediate identification of where a particular batch of product was used, i.e. which production order is was used for and in turn who the finished product was sold to and when. Without the knowledge associated with food traceability, it is impossible to decipher the source of a problem and the possible exposition to it, which can lead to extortionate blanket recalls.

When facing such large recalls, time, money and consumer faith can be lost in significant measures, leading to sometimes irreparable damage to brand reputation.

Beyond providing greater visibility of a product’s journey, a well suited ERP solution can help drive business efficiencies in many areas. This is particularly important at a time the food and beverage industry is a number of exogenous pressure factors.

To learn more about how ERP can streamline the day-to-day running of your business, download our straight forward guide on ERP systems.

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