Traceability – The front end of the food retail industry

Ensuring food safety

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Food products  displayed on the shelves of retail stores  traverse a long way to get there. Right from gathering the original ingredients to manufacturing the final product,  the process culminates into a long supply chain. The task of keeping food safe can get tricky, with each additional point touched or international border crossed. Any discrepancy in such a situation can blow up into a potential hazard that can affect the health of millions of consumers who buy these food products. Instances of recall of food items from the shelves of stores due to contamination have occurred in the past, resulting in not just financial losses, but also damage to the reputation of food manufacturing companies.

Traceability ensures food safety

Today, along with the need for food retailers to practice high standards of food safety and quality, consumers too have become aware of food safety issues. Fortunately, there is a range of digital solutions that have come to the aid of food retail industries – enabling manufacturers, producers, processors, and retailers to spot any contamination or spoilage along the way. and to recall those products that are unsafe, thus preventing it from entering the supply chain, or removing it in case it has already entered. The key digital solution that enables this is called traceability.

Traceability is a solution that offers complete visibility of every stage in the food supply chain. The advantage of this technology is that it can help identify any contaminant that has entered the chain, and enable one to spot the point of contamination — thereby removing only those packages that are affected rather than recalling the entire batch which would have led to a greater financial loss. The other advantage of traceability is that it offers regulatory bodies with hard evidence to make regulatory decisions.

Traceability solutions can operate optimally on a Software-as-a-Service or SaaS model. SaaS technology became viable with the advent of high-speed internet. Software vendors now host the applications in their own data centers and offer it as a service to their customers based on usage or subscription. This eliminates the need for software to be installed within the walls of the organization. SaaS technology is thus affordable to most food retail companies.

In addition, the other key issues plaguing food companies include poor quality, adulteration, contamination, or spoilage of food items or ingredients. To ensure safe and high-quality food, a whole value chain approach needs to be adopted, for which relevant data needs to be captured at key points in the supply chain. This data capturing may occur at remote and scattered locations and be stored in a central repository, with near real-time visibility.

Blockchain improves food traceability

The latest, cutting edge technology to enter traceability is blockchain. According to the definition by the World Economic Forum

“Blockchain is a shared, programmable and cryptographically secure and therefore trusted ledger which no single user controls, which can be inspected by anyone”

In the past , many big food players, including Nestlé, Starbucks, and others, have reported blockchain initiatives for their food supply chain. The advantage of using blockchain is that it can reduce the process of finding the responsible supplier within  seconds.

Moreover, by using this technology, stakeholders can track the corrupt source and then surgically remove it from the supply chain. The key idea of having a blockchain encourages all the stakeholders, including suppliers and retailers, to get their data straight. In addition, it allows stakeholders to share information privately and securely in the interest of food safety. Blockchain seems to be the go-to solution as it can offer consumers with concrete, immutable data about their food. In the coming years, traceability using blockchain is expected to become the front end of the food retail industry!

Venkat Maroju, chief executive officer at SourceTrace

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