At the beginning of 2013, the news broke that burgers and ready meals masquerading as beef actually contained up to 100% horsemeat. Millions of customers had been deceived - and a nation’s collective eyebrow was raised in the direction of food manufacturers, food retailers and murky supply chains.
As a result, consumers are more concerned than ever before about the origins of their food. Accordingly, traceability has been propelled from a box-ticking exercise to a primary business concern - and food businesses that are able to vouch for the origins of their food can gain a major competitive advantage.
From a single grain of rice to a Picanha rump, every food item travels a unique journey before it reaches the end-consumer. The concept of traceability seeks to throw the spotlight on each stage of that journey, to help food businesses and consumers better understand where their food has come from.
How has traceability evolved?
Back in 1985 traceability was largely the responsibility of trading standards officers and environmental health officers. If elicit or falsified products were found, officials would use paperwork - such as invoices - to climb the supply chain and prosecute those responsible.
By the nineties it was insurance companies trumpeting the need for traceability. Up-stream traceability was a time-consuming paper-based exercise - and many food businesses simply didn’t bother. So when unsafe food reached the supermarket shelves, the result was large-scale product recalls with notices in national press. Insurers, growing tired of footing the recall bill, realised that better traceability systems would mean fewer recalls, smaller recalls and quieter recalls. Traceability was on the agenda.
Yet it wasn’t until 2005 that traceability became a legal requirement. General Food Regulation 2004 forced food businesses to document where their food items came from and where they were going: one step forward, one step back. As the noughties progressed, traceability started to become entwined with reputation. Certification bodies recognised that if their logo was on food packaging, they had better make sure the products were everything they claimed to be. Suddenly there was a need to scrutinise entire supply chains.
Today traceability is the cornerstone of EU food safety legislation. But compliance with legislation is just the start.
Some business are now using coding in highly sophisticated ways. A simple scan can reveal the entire history of a product, right down to the farmer who grew it.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving into the detail of dotcodes, 2D datamatrix and QR codes to see how this is possible, but if you can’t wait that long, you can always download our free white paper now: Changing the face of food traceability