Serialisation – the future of food industry traceability?

Simon Noakes explains the benefits of serialisation and how it can form a core component of end-to-end tracking and traceability in the food sector.

|Jun 6|magazine15 min read

The US has already adopted serialisation regulation in the pharmaceutical market through

the Drug Supply Chain Security Act – the FDA acting to introduce carton and case

serialisation to combat illegal and counterfeit prescription drugs and improve drug safety. In

the food sector, where the supply chain is also highly complex and global and products are

sourced from across the world, the same reasoning is also valid.

Authentication, track and trace, supply chain logistics and comprehensive product safety in

the food industry are critical to protect consumers, operational efficiency and brand

reputation. Many food industry players believe serialisation requirements may form part of

the next batch of food safety rules.

Put the customer first for safety and peace of mind

Food manufacturers and suppliers that can show more granular track and trace capability

down to the individual box level across their operations – whether this is at the inbound,

production or outbound stage – will bring peace of mind to prospective and existing

customers. If they can achieve this before being compelled to do so by any future

legislation, this will have an even greater benefit to brand reputation.

Advanced technologies such as blockchain are also driving innovation for food manufacturer

and supplier engagement. Serialising food packages and QR code labelling can feed

information to a blockchain that provides transparent supply chain information direct to the

end consumer.

Align with consumer ethics

Consumers are increasingly looking beyond just food safety information when making

purchasing decisions, now opting to align their purchases with their individual values and

beliefs.

Food organisations that collaborate with restaurants and stores to use advanced technology

such as blockchain could harness their internal track and trace data to feed dedicated apps,

providing consumers with information on ethical sourcing, product source, food standards

compliance, or even granular information such as the sweetness of a particular package of

oranges. Product serialisation is vital for the successful integration of these exciting

technologies.

Lot tracing and serialisation – get the best of both worlds

Serialised box tracking and lot tracking is not an "either-or" proposition – there are

significant operational advantages to using both processes.

All growers and producers face a choice on how to define what constitutes a lot, whether it

is based on a time range, specific production line or the field from which produce was

harvested. Whatever rule is established is likely to disregard other factors that may affect

the quality and characteristics of the product. In cheese block production for example, even

if food safety is not an issue, the quality characteristics at the start, middle and end of a run

can vary, so having a serial number and timestamp on each box provides valuable

information that could be stored on a serialised box record.

Beyond this, if a contaminant or substandard raw material was introduced into the process

at a certain time, then having a usable serial number with a timestamp can reduce the scope

of a recall of non-conforming products – even within the same lot and after sale or

distribution to downstream customers.

Back-end benefits – serialisation in the warehouse

Box serialisation also offers significant benefits for warehouse processes. Having barcoded,

serialised box records with catch weight information for random weight products achieves

much improved inventory accuracy and is especially important for products that are bought

or sold by weight.

Even for fixed weight items, having serial numbers coded onto the boxes – using Box IDs or

GS1-128 barcodes that include the serial number segment – allows the ERP or warehouse

system to check for duplicate scans during picking and movement of products between

pallets. In general, the ability to track the movement of serialised boxes from serialised

pallets in the warehouse out to customers provides a superior audit trail that is vital for

researching and tackling day-to-day warehouse issues.

Food manufacturers: waste not, want not!

Food waste continues to be an issue for the industry and society as a whole, with the UN

estimating that a third of all food produced annually goes to waste. Although efforts are

being made to reduce food waste at point of consumption, this also highlights the

importance of greater traceability throughout the industry’s product and supply chains.

With close tracking and management of co-product, by-products and other potential waste,

food manufacturers have the opportunity to secure a slice of the $47 billion upcycled food

waste market, which is set to rise by another 5% in the next decade. This will allow food

manufacturers and processors to consistently convert food waste from a loss to a profit.

Opening additional revenue streams

Cutting down on food waste also unlocks the opportunity for food manufacturers to identify

and open additional revenue streams. By implementing technology to track and manage

valuable co- and by-products of food production, manufacturers can plan, schedule and

record the consumption and output of these processes.

Using the latest industry-specific technology, users can create co- and by-product formulas

based on any batch size and automatically resize the formula for batches based on demand

and equipment.

This granular management allows manufacturers to define diverging Bill of Materials where

one item goes into a product and additional items result in co- or by-products. Giving a food

company the technology to track, monitor, reuse and sell co- and by-products of the

manufacturing process helps avoid significant unnecessary waste in the process. With

greater traceability and management, food manufacturers and suppliers can both work to

reduce food waste and actively demonstrate this to customers.

Time to get serious about serialisation

Advances in box tracking and serialisation technology have today made it feasible to achieve

the benefits with little financial impact. Food organisations should consider that introducing

serialisation capabilities in their ERP and other management systems will provide advance

preparation against fast-moving regulatory and technology changes, operational

efficiencies, and a tangible way to gain a competitive advantage in the market.

Simon Noakes is SMB Director at Columbus UK. Experienced Manufacturing and Supply

Chain professional with a background in industry covering a number of ERP and systems

implementations from a client perspective. Now using his previous knowledge to oversee

business consultancy and Microsoft Dynamics implementations across ERP/CRM and the

wider stack to support businesses deliver real benefits and digitally transform themselves

using proven project methodology.