More Than Food Traceability: The Case of Cassava Exporters from Costa Rica

Since the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in January 2011, producers, as well as other participants in the export chain, have been faced with new regulations and requirements, which have created new challenges. In looking at the...


Since the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in January 2011, producers, as well as other participants in the export chain, have been faced with new regulations and requirements, which have created new challenges. In looking at the challenge of traceability, the Georgia Tech Trade, Innovation & Productivity Center (GT TIP Center) in San Jose, Costa Rica has developed a methodology for mapping, analyzing, and describing the different processes in a food supply chain, as well as collecting and analyzing critical information. The GT TIP Center examined the case of cassava exporters from Costa Rica, which currently generates approximately $50 million per year, and has positioned itself as the main supplier to the U.S.

Cassava is a plant originating from South America and is known by various names, including yucca and tapioca.

For the last three years, the GT TIP Center has been mapping the cassava export supply chain and the identification of gaps between the current state and the desired situation in relation to the new entry regulations to the U.S. market. In addition to traceability measures, this research also included aspects for quality improvements and performance measures such as time, costs, and waste.

The endeavor was directed toward developing a specific methodology to map and analyze fresh produce export chains holistically by considering the following basic criteria:

• To cut across the whole food export chain, starting at the farm level and moving subsequently into packaging and transportation until the product is shipped to the different destinations in the U.S.;

• To integrate three different process dimensions into the analysis: traceability, quality, and logistics performance; and

• To collect and upload critical information obtained at the field level, trying to identify at the same time opportunities for automation and data integration.

Under these criteria, and with a traceability focus, the GT TIP Center developed a standardized instrument for data collection and process visibility throughout the cassava chain that could easily model logistics chains for other industries. The tool, which contained a total of 134 items for valuation, has the capacity to graphically display the data collected and to simulate times and costs for the different processes, as well as identify risks and gaps at the activity level. The developed tool also allows for process modeling and for building scenarios for analyzing interactions among the stakeholders of the value chain.

The initial research found that under the current circumstances of operation, it can be concluded that cassava exports have a very basic traceability system in the sense that it is possible to trace one step forward and one step backward in the chain; nonetheless, the speed at which the process flow can be reconstructed is low according to the guidelines put forth under the FSMA regulations. In addition, not all the information required to characterize the process applied to the product can be obtained, reducing the quality of “traceable” information.

Also, the actual use of basic lot numbers show opportunities for standardization and improvement according to benchmarked practices. It was felt that, in general, information is not seen as critical in supporting food safety protection practices. To this respect, innovation with more sophisticated lot numbers can be introduced at little additional cost for the packaging operation. More valuable information on risk management for the different runs of production could also be obtained. It is important to note that most processing activity, as well as the gaps and risks identified, concentrate along the production and packaging stages of the cassava export process.

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