Tag Archives: traceability

Steve Sands, Performance Food Group
FST Soapbox

Redesigning Supply Chains to Match Evolving Consumer Demands

By Steve Sands
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Steve Sands, Performance Food Group

Food is no longer a commodity. With an increase in special interest consumer groups, it’s taking on a more nuanced character. Consumers are increasingly seeking out specific attributes for their food. Whether the focus is on organic and natural, foods with superior eating quality, or simply a better price—consumers are more discerning than ever.

Their expectations around transparency and authenticity are growing as well.

According to Food Marketing Institute research, nearly 93% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand when it commits to full transparency. Transparency and traceability go hand in hand. In a study conducted by SMS Research, traceability was at least somewhat important to 75% of participants and very important to 45%.* Animal welfare emerged as a contributing factor with 75% of consumers claiming they would be at least somewhat more likely to buy beef if they knew about the animal’s living conditions.

These are useful insights but challenging to make fully actionable in our commodity-focused infrastructure that’s simply not built for the nuance of our new reality. Successful companies will design a supply chain within the existing infrastructure and industry capabilities that meets customers’ unique needs and desired attributes.

Two major retailers are developing their own supply chains to control quality. Last year, Costco announced it is bringing chicken production in-house, largely driven by its rotisserie program, to ensure size specifications are met. In April, Walmart announced it is developing an end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef. Companies like Tyson are upgrading some of their supply chains with improved traceability systems using DNA technology. The use of this technology was pioneered in North America a decade ago in partnership with IdentiGEN, a global expert identifying and tracing food products with greater precision and accuracy.

Leveraging DNA Technology

DNA traceability was first developed nearly 20 years ago in Ireland by IdentiGEN to protect market access for Irish beef. The technology can serve as the backbone for a comprehensive set of origin, handling and processing practices that work together to guarantee quality. Beyond genetics, a company’s quality improvement program should consider standards for feeding, animal health, humane treatment, environmental impact and the processing of the animal. DNA technology can help uphold these standards throughout the supply chain, providing a cost-effective way of tracking product and establishing meaningful accountability.

Here’s how the technology works. At the slaughterhouse, a DNA sample is taken from the animal, and the ear tag is then scanned to create a digital link. With this information, the origin and handling of product throughout the supply chain is verifiable, even after disassembly and packing. From a safety standpoint, the technology can support recall mitigation efforts, allowing for swift and specific identification of the animals involved, helping protect consumers and limiting financial damages.

To create the most effective supply chain, companies should still supplement DNA testing with time-tested initiatives for quality improvement, such as customer feedback mechanisms and facility audits conducted both by internal groups as well as external partners and USDA-approved auditing companies. The data collected should not be siloed but rather correlated in some capacity to create a holistic view of all supply sources and the quality they deliver.

Building a Foundation for Success

There are many elements beyond technology that come together to make traceability and quality initiatives successful. One is a company’s big-picture, strategic view. It helps to look at these programs and systems as supporting an evolving process. Continuous improvement means creating and refining the right mix of methodologies, partners and technology—it’s about evaluating and eliminating anything that no longer adds value. Some companies have banned electric cattle prods, for example, because they cause stress on the animal that negatively impacts quality. As standards continue to strengthen and the supply chain is better organized, everything works together more cohesively, and it becomes easier to continue updating and adding new elements.

The foundation for any initiative of this type must be built on a shared vision, strategy and end goals, starting at the organizational level, and then with external partners. A supply chain should be organized for better production, but it also should be organized for mutual benefit, recognizing that everyone has different goals and interests. Structure your economic models so that every link in the supply chain is pulling in the same direction. Participating in the supply chain should mean doing at least a little bit better, however each partner defines it—enhanced financial performance, higher quality, lower shrinkage or improved safety and compliance. Farmers and packers will be willing to participate in the systems—and use tools like DNA technology—if they gain insights that help them achieve their goals, sell more product and improve their bottom line. It’s all about building a system that works for everyone involved.

Consumer demand for foods that offer greater choice and a wider variety of attributes will only continue to grow. Companies can successfully mature brands through a customized supply chain grounded in increased accountability and traceability. The potential to re-engineer supply chains and meet customer needs more effectively exists across many different product categories and attributes. It’s a valuable opportunity many companies may find well worth exploring.

* The survey was conducted by SMS Research on behalf of PFG among a sample of 2,001 general consumers in the U.S., weighted to census. This survey was live on March 28 – April 1st, 2019. All statistical tests were performed at a 5% risk level. PFG had no role in survey design, data collection, data analysis or data interpretation.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

In France, Appellation Matters, Not Just for Wine

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, Decernis, Strawberries
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

The 2013 horse meat and lasagna scandal, and the 2018 kiwi fraud issue are just some of the product traceability cases that are under public scrutiny in France. For the second time in France’s Lot-et-Garonne region, strawberries labeled French turned out to originate in Spain. Part of the harvesting labor was outsourced and was therefore more difficult to track. This makes it easier for mislabeling and food fraud to enter smaller-scale agricultural and agricultural cooperative businesses.

Resource

  1. Annick Berger (June 22, 2019). “Apres les faux kiwis, voici les fausses fraises francaises”. Capital.fr Retrieved from https://www.capital.fr/entreprises-marches/apres-les-faux-kiwis-voici-les-fausses-fraises-francaises-1342718
Bob Burrows, Chainvu
FST Soapbox

Five Steps To Overcome the Catch-22 Dilemma Of Blockchain Adoption In Your Food Supply Chain

By Bob Burrows
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Bob Burrows, Chainvu

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? This saying can easily be adapted to blockchain in the food supply chain, only it would say, “It takes a village to do blockchain successfully.”

Blockchain, by definition, requires the collaboration and consensus of all of its participants. If you look at a commonly accepted definition, blockchain is a sequence of consensually verified transaction blocks chained together, with each of the supply chain members as an equal owner of the same transaction data.

In the food supply chain context, this means that all supply chain participants—from the farmer/grower to the retail store and, in some scenarios, even the end consumer—have to be part of the blockchain or it will fail.

But therein lies the problem.

The Blockchain Catch-22 Adoption Dilemma

While blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the food industry (e.g., the way we handle food recalls), it puts innovators in today’s complex food supply chains in an awkward Catch-22 dilemma.

Unless you are Walmart or another equally big force in the food industry with the buying power to demand that your suppliers adopt blockchain, you cannot implement blockchain successfully without your entire supply chain joining you. But oftentimes, your partners (and sometimes your management) require the commitment of all others jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.

While this situation could feel intimidating, those obstacles are usually easily overcome with the right arguments presented in a sound business case. I want to share with you five tried-and-true steps to get even the most reluctant technophobic supply chain member excited about blockchain and ready to sign on.

1. Clearly Outline Risks Across the Entire Supply Chain

One of the biggest (and most expensive) mistakes companies make when adopting blockchain is to adopt a new technology purely for the sake of it. Therefore, the starting point for any negotiations should be to outline the real business problems you are trying to solve. Put yourself in the shoes of your partners’ management and explain the problems from their perspective.

But don’t try to boil the ocean—just focus on two or three main issues that could either have disastrous (as in business operation/reputation-destroying) consequences or become extremely costly issues. Additionally, you could include a short list of secondary issues to preempt questions about other concerns.

For example, facing a food safety incident and the associated food recalls could be your primary issues. Secondary issues might be product integrity and spoilage (due to the long transit times and possible temperature fluctuations along the way), compliance with government regulations regarding cost and resources, and the consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability.

2. Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Once you have identified the biggest risks, it’s time to put some numbers on paper.
Let’s stay with the example of food safety and recalls. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food recall in the United States costs businesses $30–99 million, which only includes direct costs from retrieval and disposal of recalled items without taking additional expenses for lawsuits, reputational damages and sales losses into account.

What would a recall scenario look like for your company, and what costs would be associated with it? What does your liability management for this scenario look like across the entire supply chain? Walk through the scenario step-by-step and put down realistic numbers. Be sure you can back it up with real data at any point in time.

3. Explain the Proposed Solution (Without Getting Too Technical)

Now that you have outlined the biggest risks and walked them through the numbers, it is time to present your proposed solution. When doing so, keep in mind that most people who are not very familiar with blockchain think immediately of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency—including the hype, unpredictability and hacks.

Rather than leading with technical explanations, try to first explain your solution from a business perspective without using the word “blockchain.” Frank Yiannas, the former Walmart vice president of food safety and now deputy commissioner, food policy and response for the FDA, once described blockchain as “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” This is the level of technicality you want to hit.

Once you have buy-in for the overall approach, you can lay out the technical details including how blockchain, IoT-enabled sensors and smart contracts fit into this picture.

4. Showcase Lowest Hanging Fruit First, Then Define Long-Term Benefits & Soft Savings

Pat yourself on the back—you have just overcome the biggest hurdle in the process. Now it is time to bring the deal home by laying out the quick wins (low-hanging fruit) and the long-term benefits.

If you implement a blockchain solution paired with smart sensors to constantly monitor your product’s temperature, shock impact, moisture and location, a huge quick win could be the ability to immediately identify any potentially spoiled or compromised items. All members of the supply chain could get an instant notification if an exception occurs.

While listing the immediate benefits and calculating potential savings is crucial for getting buy-in, the long-term benefits are also important. For example, you could point out that consumers (especially millennials) are willing to spend more money on brands that offer more transparency, brands they can trust (e.g., authenticity of extra virgin olive oil), and brands they can trace back to their origins (provenance).

In addition, there are also efficiency gains through blockchain. When speaking to your own management, point out the ability to improve your own operations due to the increased level of automation, as well as the opportunity for improving the overall supply chain efficiencies by collecting data across the supply chain.

Just be sure that your benefits correlate with the problems you had outlined initially.

5. Have a Detailed Adoption Roadmap

Last but not least, be prepared to have a detailed adoption road map. This is crucial, as it allows you to take their enthusiasm to the next level. All the other steps are for nought if this isn’t put into action. Go the extra mile to set your project up for success and map out the key details, including:

  • Proposed project timelines (e.g., onboarding phase, trial start and end dates, decision deadlines),
  • Must-meet milestones and key performance indicators
  • Expected road blocks and how you will address them

While this puts extra responsibility on your team, it allows you to keep driving the project forward and at least bring it to a trial or pilot stage that will give you more tangible benefits.

Conclusion

Whether you follow these tips step-by-step or you pick and choose, I would like you to take one thing away from reading this: While there is tremendous potential in blockchain, don’t implement it purely for the sake of catchy headlines or bragging rights! To get your supply chain partners and executive management on board, you must tie the implementation to relevant business use cases to achieve tangible results.

SafeTraces

Seaweed-Based DNA Barcodes Trace Food Throughout Supply Chain

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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SafeTraces

Having the ability to apply barcodes directly to food could change the game of food traceability. One company has developed a patented technology that involves applying a DNA barcode directly to raw materials and finished product to enable traceability of a product throughout the entire supply chain.

Last month SafeTraces, Inc. was granted a U.S. Patent for a new method that encodes and decodes digital information to and from DNA strands. Called safeTracers, these seaweed-based DNA barcodes have been deemed generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by FDA, are non-GMO and Kosher, and can be applied to all food and beverage products, according to SafeTraces. The DNA barcodes were initially developed for low margin industries such as fresh produce, and bulk foods and grains. The safeTracers are generated via the company’s IoT miniDART solution, which creates a unique batch for each lot of product. They are directly applied to food during processing, giving the food item or batch of commodity food a unique tag that contains traceability information.

This technology could be fill a critical piece of the puzzle during a recall, as information about a product could be accessed within minutes.

Blockchain

GS1 Discussion Group Seeks Education About Blockchain Without the Hype

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

There are two key points that Kevin Otto of GS1 wants people to understand about blockchain: It is not a traceability solution in itself, and data standards are critical. Otto is the lead for the GS1 US Cross-Industry Blockchain Discussion Group (launched in November 2018) and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative at GS1 US. Recently the blockchain buzz has been transforming into a more realistic conversation about the future role of the technology in supply chain visibility and the necessary steps to achieve interoperability. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Otto shares what GS1 is trying to accomplish with its relatively new blockchain discussion group, the important role of data standards, and supply chain traceability.

Food Safety Tech: Can you explain the role and goals of GS1’s blockchain discussion group?

Kevin Otto, GS1 US
Kevin Otto, lead for the GS1 US Cross-Industry Blockchain Discussion Group and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative at GS1 US.

Kevin Otto: It’s a cross industry discussion group, so it’s a bit of departure from how we typically approach industry with verticals such as foodservice or retail/grocery. For the blockchain discussion group, we decided to bring different industries together under one umbrella—leading companies within foodservice, retail/grocery, healthcare, and apparel/merchandise—to discuss the use cases and implementations for blockchain. The common thread among so many industries was a focus on improving supply chain visibility. We thought it was a good opportunity to see where we could get alignment and be industry agnostic around how blockchain can be leveraged.

There were a few overarching goals that we were trying to accomplish with the group: The first thing we heard from industry is they’d really like some education without the hype. There seemed to be some confusion with some industry partners that blockchain itself is a traceability solution, which it isn’t. We know that a blockchain implementation is only as good as the data that is feeding it. We want to help various players in these industries clear up confusion, [and understand] that there’s still a need for data standards in order for blockchain to produce meaningful results. As a neutral not-for-profit organization, we thought we’d be a good place to provide education and industry insight.

In terms of other things that this group is trying to do: One thing that we thought was abundantly clear was the need to identify and align on the necessary core standards and master data elements to even approach a trading partner with a supply chain visibility proof of concept leveraging blockchain. If you want to talk about supply chain visibility with your trading partners and you’re not capturing and sharing any standardized data about how product moves through your supply chains today, there’s really no way you can even begin to discuss blockchain with them.

This goes back to the confusion in the industry where people think they can adopt “blockchain” and therefore have traceability. Supply chain visibility is a priority across all of these industries. Now is the time for them to decide what separate pieces of traceability data and master data are needed in order to have these discussions with trading partners. The discussion group will be putting out guidance on what is specifically needed for a blockchain traceability proof of concept.

Another major thing industry had asked from us: A knowledge management center, which is an interactive space where participants in the industry discussion group can post articles, ask probing questions, and interact with people outside of their four walls, and discuss progress of their own proofs of concept. We have been developing this tool over the last couple of months and will launch this summer.

FST: Are there additional the concerns about the use and implementation of blockchain technology?

Otto: There’s a lot of investment that goes into blockchain technology, and we saw a lot of people jumping in with both feet before understanding what the benefit really was to their organization. It’s almost as though blockchain was being positioned as a solution for all supply chain problems. We thought that being able to provide some of this education and insight from industry would help to elevate some of those issues.

I think one of the other concerns that plays a role is interoperability. When you talk about the ability for these different blockchain ecosystems to effectively speak to one another, there’s certainly a need for data standards in that space. There isn’t going to be just one blockchain solution; there are going to be several different players out there and they will need to leverage standards as one step toward interoperability. Our perspective is that we have companies that are already leveraging GS1 standards today through other data sharing mechanisms, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. These standards already exist; let’s make sure we’re using what’s been tested over time, which is a key step in helping ecosystems speak to one another.

FST: How is the use of digitized data provoking a shift in supply chain processes?

Otto: There are still smaller players within the food space who are leveraging paper-based data exchange with their trading partners. As the supply chain grows increasingly more global, the idea that you can have effective track and trace, for example, when the only thing you know is where a product was immediately before it came to you and immediately where it went after it left just doesn’t work anymore. It’s too slow and, quick frankly, dangerous if you have that much manual interaction and that much reliance on paper-based processes in a global supply chain. Certainly we’re seeing more trading partners make digital data exchange one of the prerequisites of their sourcing. The supply chain has gotten so complex that it just isn’t realistic to expect people to play “whisper down the lane” in figuring out where their product went in the event of a recall.

And when you think about the impact of social media and how quickly a recall can become much bigger, it’s imperative that some of these companies within the food and retail industries make sure their processes are buttoned up and that they can communicate with their trading partners quickly, and pull that product out of the supply chain. I think we’re seeing companies saying, if you don’t have a mechanism to electronically exchange data, then we may have to take our business elsewhere.

FST: Talk about your thoughts related to traceability and the need for companies to “speak the same language”. Where are companies in this journey, and where do they need assistance?

Otto: Speaking the same language is imperative. The most sophisticated data sharing methods in the world are of very little use if I don’t understand the data being sent to me. There aren’t any manufacturers, retailers, operators, etc. in the food supply chain whose stated core competency is translating data from their trading partners. That’s why so many of these different companies are relying on GS1 standards—the global language of business—so they can focus on what they do best—providing high quality, safe products to their consumers

In terms of where companies are on this journey: It varies. There are companies that have been adopting standards for traceability for years, and there are always other companies being on-boarded. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The important thing to realize is that this is a business process, not a project. Food traceability is something we need to work at everyday. As we work with all these different companies, they’re increasingly saying that food safety isn’t a competitive advantage—it’s something we all need to do and we all benefit from.

Where assistance might be needed: The food service supply chain is large and complex. When looking at the tens of thousands of independent growers as you get further upstream in the supply chain, we work with other industry associations to make sure they understand our messaging and how GS1 standards can provide value for their business. The challenge is always going to be that if we want to get to farm-to-fork traceability, we have to make sure we are talking to all the independent farmers and growers that you just can’t simply call or talk to on a daily basis. We leverage partnerships to be our voice in those discussions so we can truly connect with the entire food supply chain. That will be a continuous ongoing effort.

Third party certification program, FDA, audits, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Your Supply Chain in 2019: Top Considerations

By Maria Fontanazza
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Third party certification program, FDA, audits, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Last week industry gathered for the Food Safety Supply Chain conference at USP in Rockville, MD. The following are some quick highlights of insights they shared.

Most Common Form 483 Observations

Following FSVP inspections, the most common Form 483 observation was a company’s failure to develop an FSVP. From FY 2017 to present, the observation was cited 552 times, outweighing any other observation and underscoring the need for an educational component. – AJ Seaborn, supervisory consumer safety officer, division of import operations, ORA, FDA

FDA, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
(left to right) AJ Seaborn, Lisa Ross and Priya Rathnam of FDA share an update on FSMA implementation at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Top Citations for FY 2018

  • Hazard analysis (when a facility is not identifying a hazard that requires a preventive control)
  • Lack of a food safety plan. “There’s still work to be done on the education and outreach on this one.”
  • Equipment and utensils (GMP deficiency)
  • Allergen controls monitoring
  • Sanitation control verification procedures
  • Personnel (usually, this is related to a repeated issue)
    Priya Rathnam, supervisory consumer safety officer, CFSAN, FDA

Critical Supplier Questions Must Be Asked

  • How do you choose and approve your suppliers?
  • What must be done to ensure that we aren’t receiving hazards from suppliers?
  • What requirements must be defined?
  • Does every supplier need to be audited?
  • Should we treat all suppliers equally? (No, it depends on their risk profile)
  • How do we ensure that our program is effective?
  • When working with suppliers, it’s important that your decisions are reproducible and that you apply the same risk methodology across the board. – Erika Miller, food safety specialist, D.L. Newslow & Associates, Inc.

“Before you can do anything to transform your business, you have to have visibility in your supply chain.” – George Dyche, senior director, innovations & solutions, Avery Dennison

“’Compliance’ should be replaced in industry with ‘commitment’…when you’re committed, compliance will follow.” – Felix Amiri, food sector chair, Global Coalition for Sustained Excellence in Food & Health Protection (GCSE-FHP)

Putting the “P” in CAPA = Getting out in front of issues before they happen. “Don’t wait for the consumer to get sick… if you have a recall, it means you haven’t done your work on the CAPA side.” – Andrew Kennedy, director, Global Traceability Center, IFT

Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
(left to right) Felix Amiri, Lucy Angarita and Andy Kennedy discusss supply chain vulnerabilities and solutions.

On critical success factors to establish a traceability program: Technology will never fix a company’s data quality or process issues. If you don’t already have it defined, you won’t get there. And after you understand the KPIs and goals, don’t give up. This doesn’t happen overnight. Engage your leadership, because the vision has to be from the top for others to also allocate the time and effort. “It’s a journey, not a destination. If you take your eyes off data quality, data quality goes down.” – Lucy Angarita, director, supply chain traceability, IPC/Subway

In 2018, 47% of recalls were allergen related, and this rate has increased. “People still don’t get [allergen labeling]”.  – Barry Parsons, senior consultant, PTI Consulting Group (Division of Paster Training)

On the significance of teaching truck drivers the importance of food safety risks: “They are part of our supply chain, and we need to incorporate them. It shouldn’t be out of sight, out of mind.” – Holly Mockus, senior industry analyst, Alchemy

Third party certification program, FDA, audits, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Trish Wester, chair of The Association of Food Safety Auditing Professionals, leads an FDA panel discussion about the Third-Party Certification Program. (left to right) Doriliz De Leon, program coordinator, accredited third-party certification program, FDA; Marla Keller, biologist, FDA; Marianne Fatica, policy analyst, Office of Compliance, FDA; Clinton Priestley, consumer safety officer, audit staff, human and animal food operations, ORA, FDA

Upcoming Web Seminar to Tackle Technologies in Supply Chain Traceability

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Next month, Food Safety Tech invites you to join us for an afternoon of dynamic discussions about how technology (both emerging and current) can help the industry in its quest for full supply chain traceability. This is a complimentary web seminar. Our lineup of speakers includes Lucy Angarita, director of supply chain traceability for IPC, SUBWAY’s Purchasing Cooperative; Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist at the Institute of Food Technologists; and Sharan Lanini, director of food safety at Pacific International. These subject matter experts will talk about the technologies that enable end-to-end visibility from farm to fork, emerging technologies and the components for success, and how to make the business case for technology adoption to the C-suite. A technology spotlight will follow each session to offer attendees a preview of available solutions that tackle supply chain challenges. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask speakers your questions during three Q&A sessions.

Event Details

Supply Chain Traceability: Using Technology to Address Challenges and Compliance
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
1–4 pm ET
Register for the event

Lucy Angarita, Thomas Burke and Sharan Lanini
Speakers (left to right) Lucy Angarita, Thomas Burke and Sharan Lanini.
Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will present, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

Register to attend the complimentary web seminar, “Supply Chain Traceability: Using Technology to Address Challenges and Compliance” | May 14, 2019 | 1–4 pm ETFST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management
Kevin Payne, Zest Labs
FST Soapbox

2019 Food Safety and Transparency Trends

By Kevin Payne
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Kevin Payne, Zest Labs

When it comes to addressing food safety, did the industry really make any progress in 2018? In 2019, what new approaches or technologies can be successfully applied to prevent problems before they occur and minimize the consumer risk, minimize the market impact, and speed up the identification, isolation and recall of contaminated products?

Field-packed produce offers a unique challenge to the fresh food supply chain, as it is not processed and is not required to adhere to an FDA mandated HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) process. It has been a challenge for field-packed produce suppliers to proactively identify or prevent contaminated produce from entering the supply chain. As a result, during serious contamination incidents, the reaction is to pull and destroy all suspect product from store shelves and supply chain. Due to the lack of data isolating the source of the contamination, this is the safest approach, but it’s costing the industry millions of dollars. Ultimately, our inability to prevent or quickly isolate these events causes confusion among consumers who don’t know who to trust or what is safe to eat, resulting in a prolonged market impact.

In response to the latest E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the industry has proposed a voluntary item-level label that reflects the harvest location and date, to help identify safe product to the consumer. At best, this is a stop-gap solution, as it burdens the consumer to identify safe product.

I work in the fresh produce supply chain industry. When I go to the grocery store, I examine the produce, noting the brand and various other factors. I was aware of the romaine problem and the voluntary labeling program, so I knew what to look for. But I’m an exception. Most consumers don’t know romaine lettuce is grown during the summer and fall in northern California and further south during the winter in regions that include Arizona and Mexico. Most consumers don’t know what the “safe date” for harvest really means—nor should they be required to know this information. They look to the industry to manage this. If we buy a car or microwave oven that is found to be unsafe, the manufacturer and the government are responsible for identifying the problem and recalling the product. Yet, in the produce industry, that responsibility seems to be moving to the retailer and consumer.

It’s an unfair burden, as the retailer and consumer do not have the necessary information to make a definitive judgement regarding food safety. The responsibility needs to be shared across the entire fresh food supply chain. Records about the produce need to be shared and maintained from harvest to retail.

Will 2019 be the year that we realize we can address this challenge proactively to improve the safety of our fresh food?

We need a new approach that leverages innovative technology to provide a more reliable solution. For example, irrigation water is often identified as a culprit in spreading bacteria. Yet even with regular testing of irrigation water, the results do not currently guarantee food safety. We see emerging technology that will make regular testing more reliable, accurate and affordable to facilitate more proactive management of the water supply. This will be a critical part of an overall solution for proactive produce food safety.

Blockchain technology has been hailed as a savior of food safety and traceability. Early in 2018, it was all the rage, as various sources claimed that, by using blockchain, recall times could be cut from days or weeks to seconds. But was this an oversimplification? Perhaps so, as this early hype faded by the middle of the year amidst the various food safety outbreaks that went unresolved. Then last August, Gartner, a  market analyst firm, declared that blockchain had moved into the “trough of disillusionment” on its 2018 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies as a result of over-hyped expectations. The firm predicts that the technology may reach the “plateau of productivity” within the next decade. Can we wait another 10 years before being able to benefit from it? Should we?

We expect that blockchain trials will continue in 2019. But, while blockchain has shown promise in terms of being a secure and immutable data exchange, questions remain. What data about the produce will be entered into the blockchain? How is that data collected? Is the data validated? Bad, inaccurate or incomplete data makes blockchain relatively useless, or worse, as it undermines a trusted platform. Further, without broad agreement and adoption of data collection, blockchain can’t be successful.

For proactive management of food safety, we will also need to address both forward and backward supply chain traceability. One of the challenges realized from recent outbreaks is that it takes time to figure out what is happening. Identifying the source of the illness/outbreak isn’t easy. Once we identify a source (or multiple sources) of the contamination, blockchain—assuming that all of the necessary data has been collected—only helps to more quickly trace back produce to its origin. But, for growers, quickly understanding where all product shipped from a specific location or date is just as critical in understanding and minimizing consumer impact. Tracing product forward enables a grower to proactively inform retailers and restaurants that their product should be recalled.

Blockchain currently does not directly support this forward tracing, but can be augmented to do so. But blockchain can maintain a food safety data item, or items, that could quickly and reliably communicate product status at the pallet-level, providing instant food safety status to the current product owner, even if they didn’t have direct contact with the grower. As such, a hybrid blockchain approach, as espoused by ChainLink Research, is optimal for forward and backward traceability.

Equally important, we need to fully digitize the supply chain to enable blockchain. To make comprehensive data collection feasible, we need to automate data collection by utilizing IoT sensors at the pallet level, to properly reflect how distribution takes place through the supply chain. We need reliable data collection to properly reflect the location and condition of product distributed through a multi-tier distribution network. That level of product data visibility enables proactive management for food safety as well as quality and freshness— well beyond the current trailer-level monitoring that only monitors transit temperatures with no benefit to managing food safety. Effective data capture will define the next generation of fresh food management, as it embraces proactive food safety, quality and freshness management.

Goals for This Year

For 2019, our goals should be to embrace new approaches and technology that:

  1. Identify food contamination at its source and prevent contaminated food from ever entering the supply chain. We need to focus on developing new technologies that make this feasible and cost effective.
  2. Accurately and consistently track product condition and authenticity of fresh produce from the time it is harvested until it is delivered. IoT sensors and proactive fresh food supply chain management solutions provide this capability.
  3.  Make it cost-effective and practical for growers, suppliers and grocers to use solutions to improve the entire fresh food supply chain. If we make the process burdensome or without a reasonable ROI, implementation will lag, and the problems will persist. But if we demonstrate that these solutions offer value across the fresh food supply chain—through reduced waste and improved operational efficiency—growers, suppliers, shippers and grocers will embrace them.