Table of Contents

1. Overview

Food is a dynamic substance which changes with time and through exposure to different temperatures, storage conditions and processing methods.

  • Food safety is a scientific discipline describing the production, harvesting, handling, processing, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. This includes a number of procedures and practices that should be followed to avoid potentially severe health hazards. Food can transmit disease to humans as well as serve as a growth medium for bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Traceability gives the ability to identify the past or current location of a food item, as well as to know the item's history. To achieve traceability, a producer and other supply chain participants must be able to link the physical flow of materials and products with information about locations, parties, processes and conditions. Traceability of food products is driven by food safety requirements and consumer concerns about where the food they eat comes from and how it was produced.


2. Some notes on traceability

Traceability helps to identify the source of products and their ingredients, to identify the processes conducted, to assure compliance with food safety standards, and to affirm the authenticity of a product and claims made about it. When something goes wrong, the information recorded for traceability purposes can help to locate and prevent further distribution of products that may be affected, and if necessary support withdrawals.

Implementing traceability requires supply chain participants to link the physical flow of materials and products with information about locations, parties and processes. This requires each party to keep “vital records”. “Vital records” are the minimum records required to achieve a particular outcome.

The following actions are required in order to achieve traceability:

  • Identify and record the food and its components
  • Identify and record relevant locations and parties
  • Identify and record treatments and processes
  • Record movements of products, one-step-back and one-step-forwards, in other words – what exactly was received from whom, and what exactly was sent to whom
  • Record changes of constitution of products, such as breaking or building a pallet
  • Record transformations of products, for example on-site processing
  • Link the inputs to the outputs, taking account of constitutional changes and transformations
  • When needed, recreate what happened from records,
  • View across the whole supply chain (which is the greatest challenge)

Typical uses for traceability:

  • provides a foundation for vital data records
  • determines the origin of a product
  • gives evidence of compliance to requirements of regulations, agreements and standards
  • authenticates claims made about a product, such as “Organic” and “Fairtrade”
  • satisfies consumer demands for information on production conditions
  • reports on, locates and manages products that might have a problem.

Traceability vital records enable us to recreate the production, processing and distribution of a food or feed product, and associate a specific product with others that shared its experiences or which it met in its journey on and from farm to fork. Traceability systems enable this to happen quickly and efficiently.

The details to be recorded would depend on the reason for having traceability - food safety data requirements and records would differ from those for organic products, fair trade and carbon footprint. However, all could apply to the same product across its production and supply chains.

A “traceability system” is defined as the totality of data and operations that is capable of maintaining desired information about a product and its components through all or part of its production and utilisation chain (ISO22005:2007; SANS22005:2009).

Source: Gwynne Foster of Interlinks Traceability Services