Traceability Exercise – A Tool to Improve Food Safety Culture

Traceability is extremely critical for all stakeholders – manufacturers, supply chain, customers and the public. Learn why a traceability exercise should be part of your quality program and important tips for a successful execution.

Post orginally written by Mirena Mincheva, Quality Manager – Co-manufacturing, Continental Mills

The food industry is facing serious challenges as concerns about safety and quality of food continue to escalate. Such concerns include the following: more foodborne illnesses, a higher number and visibility of recalls, a rise in fraudulent activities in the food chain, higher risk of contamination due to complex supply chain and increased threats of terrorism.

The impact of all this is very significant and can lead to damaged brands, economic loss, rising distrust in the food supply, greater customer protection expectations, etc.

How Traceability Exercises Benefit Brands

Traceability is extremely critical for all stakeholders – manufacturers, supply chain, customers and the public, therefore an important requirement for GFSI, other 3rd party food safety audits, and government audits.

When planning for an emergency situation, preparedness is the key followed by a good response, recovery, and prevention. But how to ensure that brand owners are well prepared and have visibility into the supply chain when utilizing an external manufacturing partner?

There is more than one activity that can assist brand owners with risk management and mitigation thus lowering the impact of recalls and decreasing liability costs when working with an external manufacturer/supplier. Traceability exercises (mock recoveries) have a proven track record to ensure preparedness and increased trust in supply chain traceability.

There are a lot of benefits for a brand owner to include annual traceability exercises in their Quality programs for external manufacturing partners. Customer driven traces strengthen the relationship between a customer and their supplier through increased visibility of systems, teamwork, and a non-biased perspective.

Important tips for a flawless execution of traceability exercises when initiated by a customer:

  • Months ahead of time review the supplier’s previously completed mock recovery to consider areas of improvement and to determine material to be traced. It can be an ingredient or packaging material depending on the comfort level with the results from the past exercise.
  • Pick a material that has been received at a minimum 6 months prior to the date of the traceability exercise .
  • To effectively challenge the supplier’s system even with the risk of failure, initiate the exercise without a prior announcement.
  • Notify the supplier via email and include all pertinent information for the material to be traced: PO#, quantities, date of receipt, lot code, etc.
  • To challenge the whole system, request a full trace – from the raw material/packaging received from a vendor into the finished product where it is used.
  • Follow up with a phone call immediately to ensure receipt of the communicationWhen reviewing/analyzing the data and documentation submitted by the supplier at the completion of the traceability exercise it is important to:
  • Use the assistance of an internal inventory/procurement analyst team member for accurate calculation and objectivity.
  • Ensure that the Summary Sheet provided by the supplier includes at a minimum start and end time, time needed to complete the trace, participants’ names and titles, the mass balance calculation, short summary of actions taken, findings and corrective actions.
  • Ensure that all relevant documentation including the one for finished product shipments and locations accompanies the Summary Sheet at submission.
  • Once graded, provide constructive feedback to your supplier and even benchmark against other suppliers (at your discretion).
  • Share the results with all stakeholders at your company for strengthening the brand confidence.

Successful traceability exercises do not guarantee a company’s immunity to market withdrawals and food safety recalls. A robust quality program that includes mock recoveries brings the food safety culture and supplier/customer partnership to a higher level. The program can even offer a greater benefit if extended to turnkey suppliers and outside storage facilities.

Also, since the food safety culture is the collective behavior of the organization around shared values and beliefs, customer driven trace is a great tool that can demonstrate to leadership how teamwork can multiply the success.

So Keep Calm and carry on the mock recall! As they say “There is no glory in practice, but without practice, there is no glory”.

Marina Mincheva is a Quality Manager – Co-manufacturing at Continental Mills

Lauren Wilson