By Thomas R. Cutler
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) was founded in 1939, and was based on the vision of a small group of scientists who believed that communication among professionals involved in food science and technology was essential to the progress of these emerging disciplines.
More than seventy-five years later, IFT has grown both in numbers and in impact. With members from virtually every discipline related to food science and technology, and from more than 95 countries around the world, IFT has become a voice for those dedicated to the science of food.
Recently, IFT examined traceability (product tracing) in food systems under contract with the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. It collected product tracing related information from industry representatives through telephone discussions and meetings with targeted groups, and from a number of other resources.
A total of 58 food companies categorized as produce (38%), packaged consumer foods (14%), processed ingredients (7%), distributors (5%), foodservice (17%), retail (12%), and feed (7%) were consulted. Non-food industries examined included automobile, pharmaceutical, toy, parcel, clothing and appliance. These industries use diverse product tracing methods, some of which are technologically sophisticated.
IFT analysts evaluated the motivation for traceability in each industry; they concluded the challenges of product tracing directly correlated to an understanding and rationale for the use of particular product tracing solutions. IFT also examined regulations, standards, and initiatives pertaining to product tracing around the world.
Traceability challenges surface in many different forms throughout lean manufacturing and warehousing process. Basic queries of accurate inventory on hand, location of the inventory, where it was sourced and where is it going happen many times throughout the day. Automating these data ensures the right mix of SKU’s based on history and compliance issues.
Regulatory compliance complicates traceability
GS1 and PTI compliance are required and many solution providers fail to meet those compliant standards. Being a long-time technology partner on both the PTI Steering Committee and GS1 Standards committee, AFS Technologies (www.afsi.com) is an active leader in the produce traceability movement.
The Phoenix-based technology leader offers a WMS (warehouse management system) solution strategically developed to align with evolving industry standards and requirements. As a result, distributors are able to rely on a single WMS tool to gain better visibility into food traceability, automate data throughout the warehouse with a single scan, and ensure PTI compliance both now and in the future.
Joe Bellini, CEO of AFS Technologies shared, “The AFS WMS release handles PTI and Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) compliance right out-of-the-box for 3PL companies. Companies have the ability to scan a GS1 label once, extract multiple data elements including GTIN, lot and quantity and automatically parse all of the embedded data into the WMS solution. This single scan functionality results in 99 percent plus accurate data and reduces scans by 300 percent, adding value throughout the supply chain as well as downstream for the customer.”
The new PTI functionality adds even more capabilities and benefits to distributors, including PTI voice pick codes and compliant hybrid pallet labels. It integrates easily with ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. The software also enables organizations to track inventory expiration dates and eliminate physical errors to improve accuracy and order fulfillment. As more retailers enforce PTI compliance, distributors will now be equipped with the tools needed to reduce the risk of rejected shipments.
PTI’s vision is to achieve standardized, electronic (computerized) traceability across the supply chain. Recognizing that each handler in the supply chain already has its own internal traceability system, the initiative’s solution calls for adapting those systems to track two common pieces of information on every case which moves through the supply chain or external traceability.
The information to appear on each and every case is:
- a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), which will identify who the “manufacturer” is (the owner of the brand that appears on the product case) and the type of product inside that case;
- a lot number specifically identifying the lot from which that produce came. This information will appear in both human-readable form and in a machine readable GS1 barcode. The GS1 barcode provides each trading partner in the supply chain the ability to scan and maintain the encoded information in each trading partners’ computer systems. The GTIN is a globally unique product identification number based on GS1 global standards.
These standards are time-tested and market proven for product identification, having been used in grocery stores for more than 40 years in the form of Universal Product Code (UPC) barcodes.
Automating the traceability process getting easier
Once each handler of the product is given these two pieces of information – the GTIN and lot number – they can search internal traceability systems to retrieve the necessary information about the path of that case, one step forward and one step back. The Produce Traceability Initiative does not create a centralized database to hold all the data for the entire supply chain. However, each member of the supply chain will be able to track these two fields in their individual databases and quickly determine where the produce came from, and where it was shipped.
Bellini noted that the current release of the AFS WMS platform is also fully integrated with AFS G2, a data analysis application that helps to oversee and course-correct business performance. This enhancement enables senior management to access advanced analytics anytime and on any Apple or Android tablet or laptop.
The goal is to identify and remove suspect product from the marketplace as soon as possible to safeguard public health. At the same time, product not implicated in an outbreak can stay on the market, and business can return to “normal” as soon as possible.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.