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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Traceability beyond Recalls

Does a traceability exercise inspire or intimidate you?

While a number of operations are still confused about the relationship between recall and traceability, some have moved beyond to take advantage of an expanded utilization of their traceability systems. Traceability is certainly of critical importance in ensuring effective recalls but it has a much broader utility. It is highly useful to establish a good traceability system even where recalls are not anticipated. A good traceability system ensures complete control over the complexity of information and data within an operation irrespective of the volume. A properly designed traceability system forms the basis for an accurate, effective and efficient linkage of documentation, operations, responsibilities, materials, resources, processes, output /products, services, et cetera. 

Companies with well designed and implemented traceability systems can capitalize on at least five other uses for such systems in addition to the management of recalls. In summary, the following are some of the functions of good traceability systems:

Recall Management
The most typical use of a traceability system is for ensuring that all products affected by adverse situations are identified and withdrawn or recalled from the market. Additionally, properly and accurately tracked sources of materials lead to prompt corrective and preventive actions at the exact sources and/or locations of problems. An efficient and effective traceability system also ensures that all affected parties through the chain are more accurately, completely and promptly made aware of the problem or problems to drive prompt chain-wide corrective and preventive actions.  

A Means for Cost and Profit Accounting
The ability to accurately track material footprints through the operation process provides a very useful avenue for material cost accounting. The smaller the unit size of input material for which an accurate account can be given, the better the cost accounting benefits that can be derived. On the output end of things, inventory management and production personnel are able to perform precise yield accounting from the accurate tracking of input material quantities and the resulting products. A properly designed and implemented traceability system is therefore very essential at both the input and output ends of the operation.

A Means for Ensuring Integrity of Identity Claim Products (e.g. Natural, GMO, Kosher, Halal, Organic, etc)
Special claims typically require the use of special materials. The certainty about the use of correct ingredients can be assured only in an effective traceability environment. Where a properly designed and implemented traceability system is enforced, operators have a greater confidence about the use of the right ingredients in the right products. Product claims therefore maintain legitimacy with nothing to be discovered by product claim investigators and testing agencies.

A Driver of Operations design for Efficiency
A properly designed traceability system leads operations to discover points of inefficiencies and losses. No operation simply accepts inefficiencies and losses. The default reaction of most operations is to modify operation and process steps to minimize losses and inefficiencies. Hence a good traceability system that aids the discovery of inefficiencies and losses is a valuable driver of operations design for efficiency.

A means for Product Quality and Safety Enhancement
A key component of a traceability system involves the correct identification of received materials by lots, dates or other unique identities. Thus, older and newer materials can easily be identified. This makes it easy to follow the usual industry practice of using older lots first. FIFO (First In, First Out), as it is commonly called, is most effectively practiced in an environment of a properly designed and enforced traceability system. Such a system prevents the use of expired materials that could cause quality deficiencies and, possibly, product safety problems. 

A Trail for System-Wide Audits
Auditors have and continue to use material tracking (from when an input material was received to when and where the final product was shipped) as one of the methods for challenging a facility’s product safety and quality management system. Simply following this trail can lead to a review of several operation practices, documents and records. A properly designed traceability system aids the audit process, or the lack thereof is exposed by the audit process. Lack of traceability is a clear sign of an out-of-control operation.

To put this in perspective, the industry can do without recalls; but not without traceability. In other words, if a company wishes to continuously improve its efficiency on several fronts besides recalls, it needs a well designed and implemented traceability system; but no company needs recalls.

You probably have other uses for traceability to add. Please feel free to share in the comments section. You may also post any questions that come to mind in the comments section below.

Posted By Felix Amiri

Felix Amiri is the current Food Industry Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

1 comment:

  1. I have been implementing food safety system (Haccp/FSSC 22000) for the past 2 yrs as Food safety Consultant. I released that interpretation of the standards by most Quality control personnel I have dealt with is a problem and the second challenge is not enough budget is allocated to the project by most companies - thirdly a culture changes are not managed well. Most often than not as a Consultant you find that staff are not ready or trained - and the time frames are tight others want it done in three months yet implementations of any food safety system is a journey. I have mostly dealt with SME/Medium companies - management commitment is critical. Where it is absent the project becomes a still birth and as a consultant that is the most difficult thing to deal with and lastly the other issues is change management.
    I do in fact discourage hiring of consultants to write up your documentation - rather hire us to do trainings a part of your change management process. Why ownership of those documents is very minimal - in an audit you soon realize that the consultant knows more about the process that the client. And generally as consultants we are very experienced in answering auditors and know what to expect, what questions will be asked and how to answer those questions.