Five Steps to Food Traceability

by Angela Fernandez3 Min Read

Today’s consumers are fundamentally different than they were even just ten years ago. In addition to having heightened food safety concerns, the shift in consumer attitudes toward ingredient and food sourcing transparency is something foodservice operators should not take lightly.

These major changes are affecting foodservice operators as a whole—from chain restaurants to independent entrepreneurs. With a focus on giving the consumer what they want, when they want it, operators are working more closely in collaboration with suppliers and distributors on the development of proactive food traceability programs. Through these programs, operators now have access to accurate and up-to-date standardized data, leading to more complete supply chain transparency.  

Based on the experiences of market leaders, there are five steps foodservice operators can take to enhance traceability by leveraging GS1 Standards, the most widely used supply chain standards in the world.

Focus on the Customer

This is important now more than ever, as consumers are reading about recent widespread food recalls every day. Consider all of the information about your restaurant that consumers have access to with the swipe of their smartphone. Is nutritional information available? Does this company source food locally? Is it gluten free? Think about the consumer’s perception of your brand and consider how a traceability program may support your brand promises.

Prioritize Trading Partner Collaboration

Even though collaboration has always been a valued business practice, in today’s marketplace it has become essential to effectively move businesses forward. Foodservice industry leaders collaborate through the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative to agree upon best practices and the integration of standards into key business processes. This work has been shown to reduce supply chain redundancy, streamline operations and improve consumer experiences. By focusing on the big picture, companies are able to understand trends, consumer concerns and regulations, and decide on a single approach for the benefit of the entire industry.

Uniquely Identify Products and Locations

Foodservice companies are adopting a common global language—GS1 Standards—which serve as one source of the truth to share and understand information. The backbone of this system is the Global Trade Item Number® (or GTIN®). A GTIN uniquely identifies a trade item and can be encoded into a barcode to track individual items as they move through the supply chain. Using proprietary identification that does not leverage the interoperability of GS1 Standards can mean inconsistent data exchanges between trading partners, at a time when trustworthy information is an imperative.

Foodservice operators also use Global Location Numbers (GLNs) to help identify supply chain event locations. Using both of these standards provide a solid foundation toward whole chain traceability—establishing a uniform way to identify both the “what” and the “where” within the supply chain. To achieve whole chain traceability, the internal data and processes a company uses to track products is integrated into a larger system of external data exchange that takes place between trading partners. Both processes are needed to effectively trace product throughout the supply chain.

Leverage the Global Data Synchronization NetworkTM (GDSN®) 

The GDSN enables the electronic transfer of standardized product information between trading partners and the continuous synchronization of that information over time. This network ensures all partners have access to the same, accurate information for more than 1 million food items. Recently, an Initiative member shared that they project a return on investment of about $ 1 million dollars in annual freight costs just from synchronizing “cleaner” product information for 83 of their products via the GDSN.

Implement Case Level Traceability

Many foodservice operators are outlining expectations for trading partners around the use of GS1-128 barcode case labels. These labels are important to the traceability program because it encodes the product GTIN, as well as other dynamic data elements, including date codes and batch or lot numbers, onto a case, carton or pallet. By being able to identify units at this level, all supply chain partners can manage fast and accurate tracking of inventory.

The foodservice industry is changing fast as the consumer takes more control of what they expect from their restaurant experience. Through collaboration based on standards, foodservice operators are able to drive efficiencies and take significant steps toward enhancing safety and transparency for today’s empowered consumers.

Angela Fernandez

@gs1us | Website

Angela Fernandez is vice president of retail grocery and foodservice at GS1 US and is responsible for leading the industry engagement strategy to drive broader adoption of GS1 Standards and solutions for the food industry. She is an authority on the food supply chain and food traceability.

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