Revitalizing Interest In Track-and-Trace Capabilities

Technology is paving the way for standardization within the food industry.


This means eliminating silos, continues Littlefield. “Very often each food processing facility is siloed so a large food manufacturer wouldn’t understand how to track and trace non-conforming or adverse events across different manufacturing facilities. Furthermore, they don’t have the ability to track and understand how lots from one facility move through the distribution system.”

Track-and-trace capabilities can also include the consumer, explains Littlefield. Consumer complaints can connect back to operations or distribution through a CRM system, which can enrich tracking data.

Littlefield offers a conceptualization of the technology architecture. ERP—the backbone of the enterprise orchestrating the various technologies involved within the enterprise—manages orders, inventory and financials. Operating as an extension of ERP is the MES that manages food processing. “Many food-safety issues happen on the shop floor and how and when they occur needs to be understood in order to do forward and backward traceability throughout the supply chain,” he says.

On the supply chain side are WMS solutions like Red Prairie that manage pallets through the warehouse. Another source of traceability is RFID, tracking pallets through the warehouse to the retailer. Here is a look at some of the prevalent technologies in food logistics today.

Barcode Technology: RedPrairie Corp. offers the food industry a strong inventory database model that collects a comprehensive list of inventory attributes for raw materials and finished goods, notes Tom Kozenski, vice president, product strategy for the Milwaukee-based company. “We track the necessary attributes like lot numbers, manufacturing codes, supplier code dates and inventory statuses.”

RedPrairie’s Warehouse Management Solutions can accommodate a variety of technology options, including RFID and barcode (see sidebar “Cabot Creamery Prevents Recall With WMS,” page 20).

There is no chance to overlook or omit necessary data, as the system’s discipline forces users to capture data through prompts. Managing quality control in the inspection processes ensures food safety, Kozenski says. “For instance, with a trusted supplier, we might test 10 percent of their products to make sure it passes quality control testing. But for an unknown supplier, we might test 100 percent of their products for quality. This is done in the plant, in the warehouse, and at the processing stations. We can even check quality at suppliers’ facilities because we have Web-based applications we can share with suppliers that allow them to create an inventory and identify the quality status before the products are even picked up.”

Through its transportation application, RedPrairie tracks “inventory in motion,” which can alert a driver not to deliver bad inventory he is carrying on his truck. “From an accountability perspective, the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires us to track the carrier, the driver, and even the driver’s license number so we have data pertinent to everyone who touched the inventory,” Kozenski says.

RFID Technology: While some obstacles—primarily cost—still inhibit RFID growth throughout the industry, major pilots and even actual implementations are demonstrating exceptional success. (See sidebar “Hawaii Piloting RFID For Produce Tracking,” page 21).

Ryan at the State of Hawaii believes it is just a matter of time until the price is right for RFID, likening trending technology development to that of computers or cell phones: big, bulky and expensive at first, then smaller and cheaper. “This trend is well established in technology, where you have a few players initially and with more players and technology advances, prices erode; I am seeing that already,” he says.

Beyond just tracking, the industry standard will embrace an enhanced preventive safety approach, Ryan predicts. He says the track-and-trace abilities of barcode offer limited applications for comprehensive food safety. “Traceability is a critical part of food safety and you should be able to monitor temperatures on shipments.”

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