The vital role of visibility and traceability in food safety

By Bart De Muynck

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

Having attended the North American Food Safety Summit last month in Chicago, the adage “you are what you eat” takes on a more profound significance as I am staring at the ingredients going into my next meal. 

Ensuring that the food on our plates is safe and of high quality is a primary concern for consumers, regulators and the food industry alike.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, especially section 204, has significantly elevated the standards and requirements for food safety in the United States. Section 204 is a response to the growing food safety problem in the form of the Food Traceability Rule. As a part of the Smarter Food Safety initiative, the rule encourages companies in the food value chain to invest in digital traceability technology. 

Traceability contributes to everything from more effective recalls to the removal of contaminated food products swiftly and safely. Visibility in food safety refers to the ability to monitor and track the movement of food products at every stage of the supply chain, from farm to fork. 

Traceability, on the other hand, involves the capability to trace the origin and history of a food product, especially in cases of contamination or recalls. Together, they form the bedrock of a robust food safety system. Different technologies fuel the advancement of this visibility and traceability.

Internet of things (IoT) devices, such as temperature sensors, humidity monitors and radio frequency identification tags, can continuously collect data on food conditions during transit. This real-time data allows for immediate action if any discrepancies or deviations from safety standards are detected, ensuring that food remains safe throughout the supply chain.

Advanced analytics and machine learning can process vast amounts of data generated from the supply chain. By analyzing this data, patterns and anomalies can be identified quickly, enabling proactive interventions to address potential food safety risks.

Transitioning from paper records to digital documentation not only reduces the risk of errors but also simplifies traceability efforts. Digital records can be easily accessed and shared among relevant stakeholders, expediting recalls or investigations if necessary.

Technology-driven supplier management systems allow companies to monitor and assess the compliance of their suppliers in real time. This ensures that the ingredients and products coming into the supply chain meet the necessary safety standards.

Chipotle is one of the leading food restaurant retailers that was confronted with major challenges around food safety in the past. It partnered with Mojix to adopt digital technology to improve visibility and safety. And as a result it was able to ensure its customers a higher quality and safety standards of the products in its 3,250 U.S. restaurants. As a frequent visitor to Chipotle establishments, I can personally attest to the quality and safety of the food they offer. 

As Unilever said during its keynote at the conference, “Companies should use digital solutions to facilitate traceability, which creates transparency and transparency creates trust.” PepsiCo had a similar message and pointed to the challenges of differences in regulations between the different U.S. states as well as between countries, which creates the need for more globally harmonized regulations.

The importance of visibility and traceability in food safety cannot be overstated. With more suppliers, more stringent regulations and more demanding consumers, leveraging technology is not just an option, it is a necessity.

By embracing visibility and traceability platforms, the food industry can ensure that the highest standards of safety are maintained and consumers can trust that the food on their plates is safe and of the utmost quality.

The technological advancements in IoT and analytics among others, when integrated effectively, empower stakeholders at every level of the supply chain to uphold the promise of food safety and protect the well-being of the public.

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About the author


Bart De Muynck is an industry thought leader with over 30 years of supply chain and logistics experience. He has worked for major international companies, including EY, GE Capital, Penske Logistics and PepsiCo, as well as several tech companies. He also spent eight years as a vice president of research at Gartner and, most recently, served as chief industry officer at project44. He is a member of the Forbes Technology Council and CSCMP’s Executive Inner Circle.

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