Frequently Asked Questions Food and Beverage Traceability

As a multi-trillion-dollar industry in constant evolution, the food and beverage sector is dynamic,  complex and pervasive, playing a vital role in our lives by providing much of the food we eat and the beverages we drink every day.

With the rise of globalization, a staggering variety of food products can now flow freely across borders and oceans, but since health and safety standards vary from one country to the next, the increased mobility of international products brings with it higher risks of contamination, spoilage and environmental crises around the world.

Manufacturers, retailers and consumers need and want to know everything about their food products, such as the origin, ingredients and other attributes, where and how they were processed, etc. Supply chain traceability can provide the answers and mitigate potential issues.

OPTEL’s true end-to-end traceability technologies allow companies and consumers to gain valuable insights into the journey of food and beverage products through the industry’s complex supply chain.

What is end-to-end traceability?

End-to-end traceability is the ability to track and trace information about raw materials and products across the entire supply chain, right up to the end user.

For example, end-to-end traceability solutions can be used to track the flow of cacao from a specific plot of land to the processing plant, through each distribution center, to the retailer and finally to the finished product in the consumer’s grocery basket.

Why is food and beverage traceability so important?

Food-related fraud and safety issues can threaten public health and destroy a brand’s reputation in seconds, while being quite costly. Outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, counterfeiting, food terrorism, illegal practices and diversion are a reality. Companies need to be proactive to minimize the risks of these global threats.

Traceability accomplishes this by adding transparency to the global supply chain. A good traceability platform can provide the required proof of:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Authenticity
  • Fair trade
  • Sustainability
  • Innovation

What is the difference between food safety and food quality?

Food safety refers to whether a product is safe for consumption, while food quality is more about the characteristics or standard requirements needed to satisfy the consumer.

Are there laws dedicated to protecting consumers?

Most countries have regulations and legislation to ensure food safety. The production, processing, packaging, labeling, distribution and retailing of food products and by-products are governed by a number of laws, regulations, codes of practice and guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets and enforces food safety regulations in the United States, while the European Food Safety Policy similarly governs industry practices in the European Union.

What food and beverage products are most commonly subject to counterfeiting?

  • Premium wines and spirits
  • Olive and truffle oils
  • Honey
  • Fish and seafood
  • Coffee
  • Processed spices such as saffron, cinnamon, black pepper and vanilla
  • Caviar
  • Milk powder
  • Baby formula
  • Meat
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Fair trade/certified organic products

What is serialization?

Serialization is the process of assigning a unique identifier to products. The process allows tracking and tracing of a product’s journey through the supply chain. Many industries, such as healthcare and pharmaceutical, are subject to serialization legislation.

Why is serialization important?

There are many reasons to serialize, most notably for authentication and traceability purposes. Serialization makes it more difficult and less financially viable for counterfeiters to enter the supply chain. This process helps minimize the risk to consumers by improving product safety while also minimizing financial and reputational risks to brands.

What is the difference between traceability and track-and-trace?

Both terms are often used interchangeably to describe the process of using data collection to follow a product through the supply chain.

 What is the difference between tracking and tracing?

Tracking monitors the location and status of a product as it moves along the supply chain (where it is at any given time, how it got there and under what conditions), while tracing reveals the origin and history of the product (where it came from and where it’s been).

What is the market demand for traceability technologies?

The implications for public health, corporate transparency and anti-counterfeiting efforts are significant: Between the agri-food and pharmaceutical industries, the market for tracking and tracing technologies is expected to grow to $14.1 billion in revenues by 2020, according to a report by Allied Market Research.

Why is end-to-end traceability not implemented everywhere yet?

Food supply chain transparency is complicated by the vast number of suppliers, plants, distributors and products in the supply chain. Different producers use different product identification systems, with different software and different sensors to track all kinds of products. The complexity of each supply chain and costs involved in adopting end-to-end traceability has discouraged many companies in the past.

But now, with emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), simpler and less costly solutions are available.

What is blockchain?

Webster’s Dictionary defines blockchain as “a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network.”

Also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT), blockchain is a database used to authenticate and store transactions and other data in digital “blocks.” Eliminating the need for a trusted third party such as a financial institution, blockchain relies instead on a system of consensus involving thousands of computer users, or “nodes,” within the blockchain network to validate data. Because the data within a block is stored permanently and cannot be retroactively altered within affecting all the other blocks in the chain, the technology is considered by many to be a secure, viable and potentially valuable alternative to traditional, centralized data management systems.

Why is blockchain associated with traceability?

Blockchain technology can transform the traceability process by ensuring transparent and honest transactions by multiple stakeholders involved in a value chain. The technology can therefore contribute to creating a more secure, transparent and effective supply chain.

What is the Internet of things?

The Internet of things (IoT) refers to the Internet connectivity of electronic devices and everyday objects ranging from cell phones to household appliances. When combined with traceability technologies, the IoT allows consumers to scan items before purchasing them to learn about their origin, components, sustainability, etc., among other applications.

The same concept allows brands to gain valuable insights about their customers’ purchasing habits, which can then be used to develop targeted marketing campaigns aimed at securing or enhancing customer loyalty.