Revitalizing Interest In Track-and-Trace Capabilities

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

Cabot Creamery Prevents Recalls With WMS

Cabot Creamery in Montpelier, VT, always had good control over traceability of its bulk-state cheese. But once the large blocks of cheese were cut into eight-ounce bars and should a recall be necessary, Cabot anticipated it would need to recall at lease two or three days’ worth of product because it would not be able to know exactly where every case wound up, says Ralph Viscomi, senior vice president of information services.

“A recall is something we have always dreaded and fortunately never had to do. Although we had a good idea of where every case was, we couldn’t say definitely,” says Viscomi.

Cabot found the solution it was looking for in RedPrairie’s Warehouse Management Solutions product. Viscomi wanted firstly to have the DC operate more efficiently, then to be able to identify exactly where product was shipped and when it was shipped there.

“Since our warehouse didn’t have an automated system, we were running into code date issues frequently, with pallets sitting in the warehouse until they were discovered a week before the expiration date on the pallet,” Viscomi explains.

This meant selling products as animal food for pennies on the dollar. This was another cost factor motivating Cabot to automate its DC.

The RedPrairie system went live November 2008. “Now we know exactly where every case of product goes,” Viscomi says.

He adds that two months into using the system, Cabot got a real-world chance to see just how responsive the system is. The company received from its suppliers inaccurate UPC labels. “We were able to track exactly where those cases were and we halted them from being delivered to the customer before the truck arrived. My supply chain group was ecstatic about this capability.”

The system interfaces with five other Cabot systems. Of particular importance was the ability for RedPrairie to integrate the company’s internal inventory control system with its cost accounting system. “Since we age our cheese so long, we wanted to be able to account for that cheese accurately as its value changed over time,” explains Viscomi.

Products are tracked at the case and pallet level. RF scanners collect case barcode data that contains the item code, lot code, expiration date, case weight and case serial number. RF scanners also collect pallet barcode data that contains pallet ID, item code, lot code, expiration date, number of cases and total weight.

Viscomi notes a concern in the industry to maintain consistent item information throughout the supply chain. “A company might have anywhere from a few to eight different systems, each system using its own item master. Keeping those item masters in sync is a monumental job because often when someone makes a change to one item code in one system, they forget to change that item code in another system. This creates a lot of inconsistencies.”

Cabot now uses a global item master that automatically populates all relevant systems housing item masters.

The goal, of course, is speed to react. “If you have to do a recall, it is way too late,” says Viscomi. “The key is to be able to stop anything bad from going out the door and that is what this system allows us to do. If we find a problem, we can react and identify the problem vats or cases and stop them before they get to the customer.” —A.T.

Hawaii Piloting RFID Program For Produce Tracking

The Hawaii Produce Traceability Initiative, administered by the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, began in 2007 as a three-year RFID pilot designed to promote food safety by enabling product visibility from the field to farm, distributors and to supermarkets using Lowry Computer’s Fresh Harvest track-and-trace solution.

The pilot includes six farms producing tomatoes, mushrooms, pineapples, papayas and asparagus. The pilot will also track produce from California using RFID temperature sensor tags from Infratab to monitor temperature along the supply chain into Hawaii.

“This project provides the backbone for more preventive closed-loop sensor technologies capable of measuring and reporting bio-contaminants and temperature variations via RFID as produce moves through the supply chain,” Ryan explains.

Tazelaar notes he sees companies using barcode on item levels and RFID on cases and pallets because RFID technology is still too expensive to use at the item level. The six farms ship into a DC. Produce is then shipped to supermarkets.

“We tag cases at the farms and they are read when they leave the farms,” explains Ryan. “They are read when they enter the DC and when they leave. Upon arrival to the supermarkets, cases are read again and the final read is done at the floor level. “If any problems are detected, we would know exactly which case was involved. I want to see where everything is at any time and if something went wrong, I want to know where it happened so I can alert my people to get that product out of the system. This is what promotes an overall food safety system,” says Ryan.

As RFID tags are read, a wireless system Lowry helped to develop collects data and sends it to Ryan’s computer via the Internet.

“This is revolutionary-—I don’t think anyone has done this before,” Ryan says. “This project demonstrates how effective this model is. Our goal is to make it low-cost and accessible to more users.” —A.T.

GMA, FMI Outline Food Safety Initiatives, Recall Procedures

The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are making food safety a priority as they step up their efforts to improve food safety throughout the supply chain.

GMA has developed a food safety reform proposal that places new regulatory mandates on food companies and that provides the FDA with the resources it needs to protect consumers, including:

  • A requirement that all food manufacturers have a food safety plan in place;
  • A requirement that all food manufacturers have a foreign supplier safety plan;
  • Increase in FDA food-related spending;
    •Establishment of federal agricultural standards for fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • The adoption of a risk-based approach for FDA inspections;
  • The establishment of mandatory recall authority for FDA in certain circumstances.

Food retailers have extensive systems to safeguard food and, when a recall occurs, to quickly remove products and alert consumers, said Mike Ambrosio, vice president, quality assurance, at the Wakefern Food Corp., when he testified before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare in March.

Ambrosio walked members of Congress through Wakeferns’s recall procedures:

  • Identified products are embargoed and segregated to a designated holding area;
  • U.P.C. codes are locked out of point-of-sale (POS) systems so products cannot be scanned at checkouts or sold on the company website;
  • A bulletin is sent to all store owners and applicable in-store divisions and management staff, and the information is posted on the company website;
  • Class I recalls trigger automated phone calls that notify store owners and managers directly to reinforce the bulletin;
  • Private third-party auditors visit company stores to ensure Class I recalled product has been removed from the shelves within a 24-hour period.

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