Why full chain traceability is important for the food industry

Traceability in early years

Some of the earliest examples of transparency in the food and beverage industry can be dated back to the early 1800’s with wine.

Wine cellars were cold and damp, which meant that over time the labels would fade away. When the label had deteriorated, there was no way of confirming that the bottle was what the person ordered. As a result, some dishonest proprietors took advantage of the situation by claiming it was a superior bottle, charging the customer more.

Along with this, it was discovered that criminals were intentionally mislabeling cheaper wines, in an attempt to pass them off as good brands. As a solution, winemakers began branding their logos on the quark to ensure authenticity. Evidence of this practice is still seen today when the cork is presented at the table.

Modern day food scandals

The misrepresentation of ingredients continues to be a problem for the food industry. And many times, this goes far beyond the consumer getting what they’re paying for. Sometimes it’s a question of consumer safety and business ethics.

The top foods susceptible to food fraud today are honey, olive oil, milk, saffron, apple juice, and coffee. The adulterants that are used to replace authentic ingredients are designed to avoid detection, making it relatively easy and economically profitable to pull off.

Consumers don’t always know what they’re purchasing, which has both ethical and health ramifications.

European Food Commission has a number of current initiatives in place to combat the problem, they orchestrate food fraud networks, and offer training about the topic. Advanced ISO control plans, new legislation, and IT tools for sharing data across channels all help aid the mission to combat the problem.

Technology increases customer awareness

The digital revolution has helped food scandals gain the mainstream attention they deserve. This has resulted in an increased level of consumer awareness, and pushed companies to take more corporate responsibility with how their food is produced, where ingredients are sourced from, and ethical methods of production.

The Netflix original series Rotten is one example of how mainstream media is exposing some of the negative and sometimes dangerous aspects of the food industry.

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The challenges with whole chain traceability

The longstanding standard in the food industry for supply chain visibility is the “one up, one back” method which allows brands to look back at their direct manufacturers for contaminations.

But supply chains are rarely that simple. Manufacturers sometimes have several sub suppliers that they source raw materials from. They then blend the raw ingredients, making it nearly impossible to find the original source of the contamination.

This was the case with the peanut recall in 2008.

“We had a supplier of a supplier to the contract manufacturer who was making a blended material with some of the contaminated peanut butter. But we found out six months after everyone else did because it was so far back in the supply chain.”

Transparency solutions

Whole chain traceability is a modern concept that uses technology to gain more visibility into the products life cycle. Such insight can provide a complete view of the product from farm to fork, greatly reducing the potential for safety breakdowns in food production.

Advanced ERP systems along with IoT has allowed us to collect massive amounts of data across all aspects of a products lifecycle. Linking information from electronic freshness sensors, digital farming, logistics, etc. make it possible for further development into customer friendly apps that provide in-depth information about the origin of food.

It’s becoming more feasible for customers to have the capability to scan a product in the store via smart phone, and find out the geo coordinates of harvest, processing and distribution methods, temperature history, freshness data, environmental impact records, and production competence statics.

If harnessed correctly, this pooling of information, could provide customers with complete visibility into the products their buying, and will be a massive game changer for the food industry.


We have come a long way in food safety and transparency since the 1800’s. The data generated now from food production, is bigger than we’ve ever recorded in human history. Proper analysis of this data can improve forecasts and operations like never before, making supply chains safer and more profitable.

The pioneers in the industry who find ways to transform this data and market these new functionalities, will solidify brand loyalty and pave the way for big changes in the food industry.

For more on how to create a more transparent supply chain, contact us.

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