Food Traceability Systems Explained

Traceability in the food supply chain is paramount to ensure that products are safe for consumption by consumers.  Though food traceability is a vast topic, in this blog we will focus on traceability during the food manufacturing stage of the food supply chain because this is an area that Stevens Traceability Systems has specialised in for over 30 years, having worked with food manufacturers for a great 160 years providing weighing equipment.

What is traceability?

In short, traceability is a method for reacting to potential dangers during food production. Dangers could include contamination, spoilage, or allergens for example.

Food manufacturers must ensure that their traceability efforts are to the highest standards to meet government regulations, protect their brand, and avoid product recalls.

Product Recalls

Product which would be recalled from supermarket shelf

A product recall is when government agencies demand a product to be removed from the market, at any stage of the food supply chain, which poses a threat to public health.

Not only can this affect a food manufacturers’ reputation and sales figures, the cost of wasted product, time, and re-production also impact food producers financially.

When a product recall occurs, it is extremely important that this is actioned immediately. With a traceability system in place, it will speed up the process for the food producer, as well as quickly reduce the risks for consumers.

Audits

Paper records for BRC audits

Food producers must follow industry-specific legislation and are audited by government agencies, for example, BRC, the British Retail Consortium, or SALSA. Part of the audit involves manufacturers showing their traceability system and associated paperwork/reports to evidence the policies and procedures they have in place.

Traceability is only one part of quality control; however, food manufacturers have to be able to trace-forward and trace-back their products and ingredients, from field to fork.

What is a traceability system?

A traceability system collects, records, and manages data throughout the production process. Like many systems or software, traceability systems vary in scope and capabilities.

What does a Stevens traceability system do?

The Stevens Dynamic Traceability System is a paperless, end-to-end, traceability system for food manufacturers, however, it can be used in other industries who use ingredients, for example, polymers, paint, coatings, pet food to name but a few.

Specialist software for the food industry

The Stevens traceability software has been developed specifically for the food industry, and resides in multiple areas within the food production environment, including:-

  • Management/Admin
  • Goods In
  • Weigh Up
  • Production
    • Job
    • Collation
  • Packing
  • Despatch
  • Waste

Aligned with terminals in specified zones on the shop floor, the Stevens software offers paperless traceability from goods in, through the production process, to goods out (despatch). The system records data in real-time, allowing products and ingredients to be traced back, and traced forward in the Stevens management software, meaning you can see details of all production at the touch of a button. Also, any mistakes, commonly associated with manual data entry are eliminated. Preparation for audits is quick and easy, with reports available instantly from the electronic system.

Food manufacturing

Play Video of an end-to-end paperless traceability system

Integration with other software e.g. SAP/Sage

A Stevens traceability system can be fully integrated with existing ERP systems such as SAP or Sage. Using the Stevens Integration Service, electronic data can be exchanged between ERP or MRP systems preventing duplication of data.

Types of data which can be integrated include:-

  • Commodities
  • Recipes
  • Production Schedules
  • Purchase Orders
  • Sales Orders
  • Stock
  • Locations
  • Operators
  • Allergens
  • Quality Assurance messages
Traceability Software Modules from Stevens Traceability

Overview of Stevens Traceability software modules, showing the workflow for integration of ERP / MRP systems, and what types of data can be shared between systems.

Quality Assurance

Additionally, a Stevens Dynamic Traceability System enables you to have quality control measures in place, in a proactive manner. For example, allergen control, process control, safety, critical control points (CCP), and calibration and testing routines are all available in the software and can be implemented in your system at appropriate times.

This provides customers and auditors with the reassurance that your production processes are to the highest standard, and the paperless system means that all your data is centralised and is easily accessible.

Management Benefits

Management Software for food manufacturers

The traceability system consists of several software modules, with Stevens Management being central to the system.

Stevens Management allows you to have complete control of how the system works within your business. Managers or administrators can control recipe details, tolerances for ingredients, and add or remove custom instructions or questions for operators on the shop floor.

Additionally, quality assurance controls within the system allow you to include allergen control, certificate of conformity, goods inwards checks, and product specifications. As a Manager, you can also specify what parts of the system users have access to, giving you greater control of your data.

What’s more, the traceability system comes with a reporting suite to support mass balance and evidence your traceability.

Example reports include:

  • Ingredient usage
  • Production summaries
  • Batch reporting
  • Recipes
  • Operator production
  • Waste

Bespoke reports can also be created providing you with the specific information you require from the system and your production process.

Stock Management

Stock Management of Ingredients

The Stock software module in the Dynamic system will handle your day to day stock management. Goods can be received into the system and moved from one stock location to another. Stock levels can also be adjusted with quality assurance data. Stock consumption is recorded in real-time within the system and so accurate stock levels are always available.

Included within this module are options such as:

  • Stock Receive
  • Purchase Order Receive
  • Stock Move
  • Stock Withdraw
  • Stock Adjust
  • Quarantine
  • Reprint Labels
  • Sieving Control

As goods are received, unique lot numbers can be generated, or manufacturers batch numbers entered to start the traceability of that ingredient/product. Purchase order number, supplier, expiry date, location, and other information can be recorded, allowing product traceability from the start. Quality, Conformance, and Allergen Control questions can be recorded at this stage, including commodity-specific or event-specific questions and messages.

Other optional modules include Stock Transformation and Stock Sieving. Transformation converts one commodity to another, e.g. frozen chicken breast into sliced chicken, whilst also recording batch numbers, quality assurance (QA) data, and yield information.

Sieving is often one of the first Critical Control Points (CCP). Sieve Stock manages the movement and traceability of the product from warehouse stock, or quarantined areas in bulk through to sieving and is finally dispensed into ingredient containers.

Traceability during Production

Traceability during food production

The Production software module within the Dynamic system covers all aspects of the production environment; from recipe weigh-up to finished product packaging and incorporates processes such as portion control and average weight.

This software module allows recipe batches, finished product, and quality control requirements to be scheduled centrally and executed by the respective production terminals. Batches can be scheduled by quantity, mix size, production location, or yield.

Using the Stevens software, production can be controlled by sites, locations, operators, shifts, or production dates, allowing management to prioritise production. This module also enables monitoring and control of ingredient usage, it manages stock levels and batch events whilst providing detailed reporting, dashboards, and alerts.

Location scheduling allows recipes to be weighed across different production areas, splitting, for example, dry and wet ingredients. The Collation module would then allow the mixes to be collated in the mixer terminal.

The Stevens software also benefits from Container Referencing which allows unique identifiers to be used to track content, eliminating the use of paper labels and thereby reducing paper on the shop floor. Ingredients can be consumed from the container or batches produced.

Additionally, ingredient consumption can be controlled by several methods including stock locations and expiry dates – FEFO/FIFO (First Expired, First Out / First In, First Out).

Optional software modules within Production include Batch Weighing, Campaign Weighing, Finished Products (Job Terminal, Packaging, Portion Control), and Average Weight.

Traceability at Despatch

One of the final stages of production which the system can help with is Despatch. Within the Stevens Despatch software module, operations such as picking and despatching sales orders are undertaken. Sales orders can be entered or imported using the Integration Service onto the Stevens Traceability System. The software also allows the editing of sales orders from shipment back to stock, providing a flexible solution for high change environments.

The optional Pallet Builder module allows finished goods to be added to specified pallets, to sales order requirements, and despatched as a complete pallet, providing accurate traceability.

Tracing Waste

Waste management in food production

Finally, waste can also be traced using the Dynamic system. The waste software module links to other modules within the system, for example, Production. Data about waste is available from various factory locations, by product, or by lines, and a range of reports are available to support waste reduction.

If you would like further information about traceability for your business, please call 01254 685200 or email info@stevenstraceability.com