What exactly is food traceability, and why is it important?

Food traceability indicates the possibility of following every phase of the production process of a food or beverage, starting from the beginning, that is, from the raw materials up to the finished product, ready to be consumed.

Of course, it poses a challenge for companies in the field, which they must comply with for legal reasons, but it is also a good way to improve marketing because it provides consumers with openness and clarity.

Traceability can also be defined as the ability to trace all processes, from the procurement of raw materials to production, consumption and disposal, to have a clear overview of “when and where the product was produced and by whom”. 

The Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom emphasizes the practical utility of traceability by stating:

Traceability helps keep track of food in the supply chain, which supports the accurate withdrawal/recall of unsafe food, if required. The more information you keep, the easier and quicker it will be to identify the affected food, mitigate risks to consumers and save time and money

Legal Requirements

Traceability is required by specific legislation in every country. In the European Union traceability was established by means of the EU Regulation 178/2002 which was enforced in all EU Countries on January 1st, 2005. See EU Regulation here

In the UK, the FSA (Food Standards Agency) is updating all EU references, to accurately reflect the law now in force, in all new or amended guidance published since the Transition Period ended at the end of 2020. See this page at gov.uk

In the USA traceability is enforced by the Food & Drug Administration by means of the Food Safety Modernization Act 2001, which is being submitted to further revisions and restrictions. Check here for traceability regulations in the USA, and here for the full text of FSMA.

Food & Beverage Businesses’ Responsibility

All operators in the food and beverage supply chain are responsible for the safety of the foods/drinks which they produce, distribute, store, or sell.

All of them must:

– Not place unsafe food or drinks on the market (food is unsafe if it is injurious to health or unfit for human consumption).

– Comply with food law in the production, distribution, storage, and sale of food.

– Be able to trace suppliers of food/drinks and the business customers that they have supplied.

– Remove unsafe food from the market in the event of a food safety incident.

Consequently, all the businesses in the food and beverage sector are required to:

– Have traceability information for their suppliers and business customers (one step back and one step forward).

– Retailers, including caterers, are not required to keep traceability information where they sell to the final consumer. However, where they supply food businesses, all traceability requirements must be adhered to. This means that they are not obliged to track private consumers but, of course, they are obliged to track their suppliers and therefore only buy and sell food / beverages that have the legal requirements for traceability.  

– Have systems and procedures in place to allow for traceability information to be made available to enforcement authorities on demand. 

– Label or identify food/drinks placed on the market to facilitate traceability.

– Have specific systems and procedures for products of animal origin and sprouted seeds as they are subject to specific traceability requirements (very rigorous).

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Traceability in the Food & Beverage Industry

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Bob Mazzei
Bob Mazzei

AI Consultant, IT Engineer

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