Food Safety

Aug 10, 2021 | Sesotec

Food traceability in the era of Industry 4.0

A robust, digitalized food traceability system can yield tremendous benefits for productivity, profitability, compliance, and PR. Here we look at the role of an intelligently networked production environment in improving food traceability.


Traceability is one of the most important building blocks of food safety. For food processors and manufacturers, the ability to trace all of their products and ingredients is crucial in day-to-day operations as well as in crisis management situations, such as product recalls.

The era of Industry 4.0 has opened significant opportunities for improving food traceability. This article from the food safety and detection experts at Sesotec explains the foundations of food traceability and the key role of intelligent production equipment in improving the speed and precision with which food industry businesses can trace their products.


What is food traceability?

Food traceability, also known as product tracing, is the capacity to follow the movements of a food product throughout the supply chain and stages of production. Food traceability maps a product’s complete journey through the food industry, from raw ingredients to final distribution.


Why is food traceability important?

Food traceability is a crucial pillar of food safety. It facilitates the rapid identification, location, and retraction of products that are found or suspected to be hazardous.

Product tracing capabilities are invaluable in the case of a product recall. When manufacturers can trace precisely which batches were distributed where, they can act quickly to have the defective products pulled from store shelves.

Beyond product recalls, food traceability can also help to identify food safety issues in their early stages, thus preventing their proliferation.




Especially in a globalized food industry, food traceability is more important than ever before. With increasingly complex supply chains and tight profit margins, inadequate food traceability can put consumers at risk, lead to a tremendous volume of food waste, and exacerbate the public relations fallout associated with food recalls.


Requirements for food traceability

Food traceability is a fundamental part of food safety regulations. In order to comply with legal requirements (such as EU Regulation 931/2011) and third-party certification programs (such as IFS Food V7), food industry businesses must be able to prove they have a working food traceability system in place.

At minimum, all food products and raw materials that pass through a food processing facility must be traceable “one step back, one step forward.” To comply with these standards, food processing businesses are required to implement systems and methods to keep track of the respective source and destination of all incoming and outgoing raw materials and products.

In addition to storing information about raw materials and products themselves (such as date of delivery, volume, batch numbers, etc.), food traceability systems must also include up-to-date contact information for every supplier and recipient. In the event that a problem is identified, such documentation serves to that ensure up- and downstream partners can be granted access to all data that is necessary to locate and withdraw the defective food products.





The digitalization of food traceability

Beyond stipulating what information must be documented to ensure food traceability, food safety regulations and standards do not specify what kinds of technology should be used to ensure food traceability. In its most elementary form, a physical log book with handwritten entries could theoretically suffice as a food traceability system.

In this era of Industry 4.0, however, food industry businesses commonly implement sophisticated, digital solutions for product tracking. An intelligent network of data management systems and devices within a food processing facility can ensure food traceability compliance while at the same time delivering valuable data insights into a company’s production processes.


How digital product tracking works

Contaminant detection devices are ideal pieces of equipment for improving product traceability. This is because metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems are often utilized at key junctures in the food production process (e.g. incoming goods inspection, end-of-line product inspection, and critical control points throughout processing) where food safety documentation is already required.

Sophisticated contaminant detection technology can be connected to a central data management system in order to automate process analysis, monitoring, data storage, and reporting. For each batch of products inspected, the log book software on a metal detector or x-ray device generates detailed reports that can be designed to include all necessary product tracking data. As a food moves through the different stages of production, the tracking data can be automatically updated and supplemented.


The benefits of digital product tracking

The integration of intelligent product inspection devices into a food traceability system can give a food processing company the ability to identify and locate defective products in real-time. The log book software can automatically generate and archive reports, replete with up-to-date tracking information, in compliance with food safety regulations for record keeping. Should a product recall become necessary, the speed and thoroughness of digital bookkeeping can be the difference between a swift and well-managed recall and a public relations disaster.

In addition to helping manufacturers quickly remove contaminated products from circulation, a sophisticated food traceability system can also provide data insights that help determine the source of the contamination. These contaminants could be the result of issues with the supplier, improper handling, or machine wear and tear. Such information can prove useful in a number of ways, from supplier relations to process evaluation. It can also minimize the food waste associated with recalls; by isolating the cause of contamination and the affected batches, the manufacturer can reliably confirm which products are safe to remain in circulation.




Conclusions: towards the standardization of digital food traceability

The state-of-the-art in networked product tracking and inspection technology offers a number of valuable advantages for food processing and manufacturing businesses. But because there is currently no industry-wide standard for data communication protocols, the potential of such technology is hemmed by differing data formats from company to company. Highly efficient food traceability can be fostered by one player along the supply chain, but upstream or downstream partners may store their tracking information in incompatible data formats, thereby slowing communication between companies.

OPC UA protocol has begun to establish itself as the leading candidate for a universal communications standard across industry. Were the entire food industry to adopt OPC UA protocol for networking production equipment, seamless communication between partners could proceed in a safe, efficient, and compliant manner. Synthesizing the tracking data of multiple food industry partners could revolutionize food traceability, leading to significant reductions in wasted food and energy resources and vastly improving consumer protection.




E-Book: Food Safety - What food processors need to know

The food industry is among the most regulated industries in the world. Manufacturers and processors must comply with a multitude of laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, and guidelines in order to produce and market foods in different regions.

This e-book is meant to offer a comprehensive overview of the varying and influential factors shaping the future of food manufacturing and processing. We hope you find many valuable and interesting pieces of information inside.




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