["Traceability as an innovation clearly results from the globalization of food.", nil, nil]

If 2007 is to be remembered as the year of the recalls, then we in the industry should be working hard to make 2008 a year focused on safety, reliability and, most of all, trust. Although traceability should be just one element of already established quality control systems, it may be the most important factor in assuring product excellence and security. With the recent decline of consumer confidence, credibility of health and wellness claims being questioned and complex global supply chains, there is a heightened need for transparency and effective communication.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines traceability as the ability to trace the history, application or location of that which is under consideration. Traceability systems are recordkeeping procedures that show the path of a particular product or ingredient from suppliers through all the immediate steps that process and combine ingredients into products supplied to customers and consumers.

A call for change

"Expanded national and international food regulations often historically coincide with increased cross-border trade in food, and traceability as an innovation clearly results from the globalization of food," says Deborah E. Popper, in an article from The Geographical Review . Signed into law on September 25, 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Amendments Act of 2007 (Public Law No. 110-85) states that within one year FDA shall establish early warning and surveillance systems to identify adulteration of petfood and outbreaks of illness associated with petfood. The law also requires that within two years of enactment, FDA in consultation with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) shall establish:

  • Ingredient standards and definitions;
  • Processing standards; and
  • Updated labeling standards that include nutrition and ingredient information.

The US-China Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Food and Feed Safety, signed in December 2007, establishes a system of registration and certification to ensure safety of "covered products." These products include ingredients for feed or food like wheat gluten and rice protein, and petfood and treats with ingredients of plant and animal origin.

Preventive measures

Although it is impossible to test for every possible contaminant, you can minimize the risk through internal quality assurance (QA) and quality control programs, vendor certification and in-bound testing, on-site QA audits, documentation and people processes. You can start by refining your HACCP or GMP plans, reviewing and tightening product security programs and reviewing the quality of suppliers. To keep track of incoming ingredients, construct an ingredient tracking sheet that includes:

  • Date of ingredient receipt;
  • Bill of lading number;
  • Ingredient name (common and scientific);
  • Quantity received; and
  • Manufacturer lot number or date code.

Strengthening relationships with suppliers, establishing documentation and systems to detect outliers, auditing throughout the supply chains, always tracing backward and forward, and establishing communication plans will all be instrumental in assuring quality.

Traceability technology

According to Julie Lenzer Kirk of Interstates Cos., there is already a wide range of traceability systems in place today, from manually recorded information in paper-based systems to data gathered electronically through IT enabled systems. Handwritten or printed labels are being replaced or supplemented by more effective systems that use machine-readable identification (e.g., bar codes and radio frequency ID tags).

Complete Inspection Systems Inc. offers several QA and inspection systems. The Q-Spec is designed to capture and compare incoming and finished goods. The system is meant to quickly capture an image of the product and place the image in a database of products, organized by date and lot code, barcode or any other criterion the user chooses. According to the company, Q-Spec automatically compares all the printed copy, as well as reads barcodes, including the two-dimensional data matrix, allowing products to be searched and sorted with a minimum of manual input.

MultiCheck has the ability to verify the copy and graphics on labels, cartons and other materials by performing image comparisons, text comparisons, reading and verifying the barcodes as well as performing optical character recognition on documents and applications with variable information. MultiCheck also has a database component, so the master documents can be catalogued, with their inspection types and zones already set.

A chain with many links

To work effectively, traceability means knowing the origin and exchange points of raw materials, processing plants, distributors, transporters and their route, warehouses, packagers, packing materials and retailers. Traceability's effectiveness means that recipes, ingredients and methods match up precisely with recorded locations.

Traceability offers the promise that the consumer can know the full storythe places, people, processes and practices of items raised and routed all over the world to end up in their pet's mouth.