Food traceability—the ability to track food throughout the supply chain—has re-entered the national conversation. Recent public health crises, such as COVID-19 and urgent safety recalls, have prompted growing concern worldwide—a fear compounded by longstanding supply chain disruptions.
Traceability is crucial to food safety. In 2019, foodborne E. coli infected 167 consumers across 27 states, resulting in 85 hospitalizations. The FDA, which traced the outbreak back to romaine lettuce from California’s Salinas Valley, issued a national recall; dirty agricultural water was the likely culprit.
Beyond safety, food traceability offers several perks: it can spotlight forced or underpaid labor and minimize food waste. Each year, one-third of global food production—more than 1.6 million tons—is lost or wasted.
Because food production is a traditionally low-margin industry, immediate action is essential. Failure to meet traceability requirements could add more than $700 billion in global supply chain costs—most of which will burden small growers, low-income communities, and other vulnerable targets.
A rapidly evolving industry
Governments around the world are already scrambling to boost visibility and documentation. The U.K. and France, for example, have ramped up efforts to crack down on human rights abuses. In Germany, new environmental regulations will take effect next year. And in the U.S., a proposed FDA ordinance would require food- and beverage-related businesses to maintain on-demand electronic records during food safety investigations—a move that would affect 20–30% of all U.S. food consumption.
These developments have crucial implications for those that drive global food supply chains. While individual tactics may vary, an effective risk management strategy is crucial: it helps businesses ensure food safety and meet increasingly stringent compliance requirements. Adopting the right strategy and technology can also radically improve traceability.
From chaos to victory
A comprehensive food traceability system can turbocharge the entire tracking process, from farm to fork. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies:
- Reimagine visibility with technology. In today’s increasingly digitized world, implementing technology isn’t just a competitive advantage—it’s a must. Adopting a transportation management system (TMS) allows businesses to gain real-time insight into every relevant part of the supply chain, dramatically enhancing tracking and tracing. Along the way, suppliers can cut down on food waste and boost efficiency—without sacrificing quality. Blockchain technology, too, can transform transparency: with a distributed ledger, suppliers can easily synchronize and track critical logistics data.
- Prioritize detail. When it comes to traceability, detail makes all the difference. Tracking location isn’t enough; businesses should also consider:
- Inputs. How is produce grown and harvested? What goes into meat? Certain kinds of fertilizers, for instance, may result in better outcomes.
- Prohibited substances. For example, those looking to nab a USDA organic seal will have to skip nearly all synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
- Quality assurance checks. By documenting inspections in detail, businesses can avoid pitfalls later in the product development cycle.
- Cultivate the right supplier relationships. Suppliers play a key role in food supply chains. By maintaining open, frequent communication, businesses can hold suppliers accountable for all ingredients and proper tracing and tracking systems. Suppliers should be able to trace any lot to its corresponding bar code in the blink of an eye, streamlining quality checks for themselves and their purchasers.
- Keep customers informed. In the event of a safety concern, businesses must be able to take decisive action. While standard protocol involves issuing an immediate recall, some businesses also turn to even quicker forms of communication: certain grocery store chains send their loyalty program members food hazard alerts, for example.
A new era of food traceability
Health concerns are at an all-time high—with good reason. By turning to the right strategies and tools, businesses can stay ahead of the curve, maintaining customer loyalty and trust.
CTSI-Global’s advanced software—such as Honeybee TMS—equips businesses with the data-driven insights they need to thrive. In today’s high-stakes environment, each decision matters—because a healthier, more reliable, and less wasteful food ecosystem is fully within reach.