The roles of food traceability best practices and food traceability systems for safer food trade are more important than ever before. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s recent report indicates, there are a myriad of multi-faceted factors that are contributing to—and impeding—food safety globally, including: climate change, changing consumer behaviour, food fraud, circular economies, new food sources and agrifood systems, food fraud, food innovations (think: cell-based meat), and more.

Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) purport that 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food. Unsafe food containing hazardous bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances causes more than 200 different diseases, costing.

As the world’s food dynamics constantly change, stakeholders across entire food supply chains face new imperatives that will significantly alter how they approach food safety. In response to public health threats due to contaminated food, the WHO and many legislative bodies in various countries are advocating for stronger national food control systems to “facilitate global prevention, detection and response to foodborne illnesses.”

And it all starts with better food chain information and codes of practice for food traceability.

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Long hailed as the key to reducing the burden of food threats and ensuring a swifter response to food safety breaches, food traceability systems are critical tools to operationalize standards and regulations through increased supply chain transparency.

Traceability is “the ability to follow products and goods as they move along the value chain and to glean exact information about the provenance of inputs, supplier sourcing practices, and conversion processes.”

Food traceability is precisely the means to track and trace items, such as ingredients, produce, foodstuffs and processed products, as they travel throughout food supply chains—and all the way to consumers’ plates and beyond.

To monitor products from farm to fork, food supply chains must implement an end-to-end food traceability system, which connects every stakeholder together and aggregates product information and movement data sets in real time.



The best food traceability systems can provide businesses with many benefits that can positively impact their bottom lines and brand reputations. Food traceability contributes to the following:

  • Adhering to food safety and handling legislation on a national and global scale
  • Diminishing food threats and their devastating ripple effects on human health and food companies
  • Reducing the costs and operational hassles of expansive food recalls
  • Optimizing business workflows, costs and inventories
  • Improving supplier selections and partnerships
  • Decreasing supply chain inefficiencies and costs
  • Improving supply chain resiliency and sustainability to better meet customer demand
  • Slashing food waste
  • Curtailing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints
  • Achieving higher environmental, social and governance targets faster
  • Fighting economically or politically motivated food adulteration (food fraud) and counterfeiting
  • Protecting human rights as well as those of farmers, fisher people and producers
  • Bolstering local and national economies as well as food autonomy
  • Encouraging the consumption of domestically produced products
  • Boosting a company’s overall competitive edge

As you can see, food traceability’s benefits to supply chain actors extend much further than regulatory compliance and risk mitigation.

But how can an agri-food business integrate a robust traceability program? What should a company look for in food traceability solutions? What are some food traceability best practices? Let’s dive into these food traceability dynamics in more detail.



According to the consulting firm Bain & Company’s recent Global State of Traceability, 68% of executives view traceability as “very or extremely important.” However, the report also found that leadership teams consider digitally transforming their supply chains as well as planning and implementing a traceability program arduous and highly complex.

The Institute of Food Technologies’ (IFT) Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) has identified several issues that agrifood businesses face when implementing food traceability. These include: overlapping and conflicting requirements from regulators on different food policies and regulations, the complexity of their food products and food supply chains, and dealing with global suppliers with different standards and varying levels of digitalization.



Another challenge, as observed by many food traceability consulting firms, like Panni, is “the lack of unifying requirements.” Many conventional food traceability systems do not provide a “reliable and rapid response to trace data across an entire food chain.”

These are just some of the reasons why companies have just begun what Bain & Company describe as “their journey” toward food traceability, as shown in the image :



In order for an agrifood company to start its digital transformation and develop its food traceability program, it is highly recommended that the C-Suite familiarize itself with the ins and outs of food traceability as it applies to its specific business.

The GFTC has some great resources to get started, including:

Alternatively, agrifood businesses can explore the GFTC’s food traceability services for additional support in developing a traceability program.

The World Economic Forum also created a compelling white paper, entitled Digital Traceability: A Framework for More Sustainable and Resilient Value Chains,  which provides additional tools and tips to transition from traceability experimentation to true traceability transformation.

Finally, check out GS1’s to learn more about successful traceability implementations in many different industries, including the food and food service sectors.



In the past, food traceability systems were often relegated to only certain parts of a food supply chain. Many could only provide static information on the product itself instead of real-time information on where a product was in the supply chain at any given time.

Others could track food items down the supply chain—but could not trace them back upstream to their and their ingredients’ points of origin to understand the chain of custody of products and raw materials.

Complete and adequate food traceability can only occur if a company adopts an end-to-end food traceability solution that tracks and traces food products throughout the entire supply chain, from farm to fork and all the way to the disposal/recycling of any packaging. This circular, or 360-degree approach, is the North Star for the most high-performance management of a company’s food supply chain.

Today, food traceability systems have evolved based on emerging standards, regulations, technological innovations, and field-proven expertise. Not all food traceability software is created equally. Here are some essential functionalities to remember when shopping for the best food traceability system for your business.

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The ideal food traceability software will provide granular data about the food products and raw materials, purchase orders, transactions, etc., across multiple levels, such as work shifts, units, lots, pallets, containers and even shipments.

Inquire about what other information the food traceability system can monitor, including goods from other countries, responsible sourcing, food allergen management, recipes and formulas, reusable asset management, cleaning procedures, safety checks, packaging recycling, etc.

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An efficient food traceability system will act as a supply chain control tower that connects seamlessly with a company’s other backend systems: ERP, WMS, MES, DRP, and LSP, to name a few, to finally break down information silos. It should also be able to exchange information with governmental and other regulatory bodies (the FDA, for example) for hassle-free and fast reporting.

Another caveat: be sure that the food traceability software you are considering is vendor agnostic to maximize the interconnectivity with all of your technology stacks.

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While interoperability between technology solutions is critical, so is food traceability software’s ability to capture information from more traditional data sources. Think spreadsheets, notes a farmer takes in the field, smartphone apps, paper-based reporting, etc. Many stakeholders in the food industry have not yet completed or even started their digital transformation. Nevertheless, the information they input into traceability software is paramount for complete visibility.

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Imagine tracking and tracing food items in a supply chain and calculating—all in one platform, rather than investing in more than one system. GHG emissions tracking, particularly for Scope 3 reporting, enables companies to measure emissions from within and outside their organizations. Auditing Scope 3 emissions offers significant opportunities for improving ESG targets.

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Food traceability software should provide L1 to L5 levels of serialization. The company behind the software should also be a preferred partner of GS1, the standards body that governs traceability processes in various industries. Ask your food traceability vendors if they are a Certified B Corporation that develops food traceability solutions. Are they developed using green technologies?



As supply chains in the food industry are complex and actors at differing levels of supply chain digitalization, the food traceability partner you choose must allow you to scale; perhaps your business cannot handle full-blown supply chain traceability out of the gates. Your partner can guide you to scaling your deployment based on your resources and supply chain maturity.

Furthermore, never select a cookie-cutter approach to food traceability: the software should be easily customizable to your unique business reality without having to spend months on costly customization projects.

A new era in food traceability has only just begun. It can seem overwhelming, but with the right partner, you can achieve your traceability objectives and improve your overall business performance. Contact OPTEL today to learn more on our approach to food traceability and why our food traceability software is in a league of its own.