Product quality: How to improve your company’s traceability system?

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The level of requirement regarding product quality keeps growing. Customers want to know where what they buy and consume is coming from. Industries need to be as transparent as possible. Informing the consumer is now a key issue. However, this requires a powerful traceability system …

Traceability, a kindly reminder

Traceability is the ability to follow a product at all stages of production, from initial production to final distribution. The goal is to gather as much information as possible throughout the chain.


Each company is therefore responsible for setting up its traceability system and it must prove to be as reliable as possible.

In the agri-food sector, for example, this notion of traceability is essential. If it is not met, the consequences can be disastrous for the image of the brand. Some companies have experienced major scandals (see Food Safety: The Food Fraud & Food Defense). Remember the mad cow, horse meat in prepared dishes or salmonella-contaminated milk.

From a regulatory point of view, Article 18 of Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 defines the general principles of foodstuffs traceability. It establishes general principles and responsibilities for agri-food sector operators.


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Traceability = procedures


In every company, there is one stage of the audit that we all fear: the traceability test.

According to the information that we will have to search on the product, the objectives will not be the same.


  • The upstream traceability procedure: here the auditor expects an identification of all the raw materials that have been implemented for the realization of the product, through the identification of the different suppliers.

  • The downstream traceability procedure: here it is a question of regrouping the information concerning the operations done on the finished product as well as on all of its deliveries.

  • The internal traceability procedure: this part will group together all the steps carried out between the delivery of the raw materials and the manufacture of the finished product.

Once all these elements are put together, you will have all the material needed for the presentation of your traceability test to the auditor!

Traceability system, how to improve it?

Whether in agri-food sector or other sectors, a well-controlled traceability generates a large amount of data to be used correctly. These data can be generated using QR codes or in most cases via barcodes directly scanned by each employee at each link in the chain. After all, traceability improves the productivity and efficiency of the company by identifying the points of failure detected through the analysis of these data.


And that’s when the action plan is essential, in order to monitor the failures resulting from the traceability system. Several action plans can be adopted: one for the non-conformities resulting from manufacturing, another one from logistics ... Indeed, traceability involves several departments and consequently different interlocutors.


Knowing who is doing what and when is the key to maintaining a consistent system within a company.

Digitizing the collection of data and especially its exploitation is an interesting option to ensure a follow-up of their traceability in the long term. Some companies do not hesitate to innovate in this field …


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The "Blockchain" temptation

Often associated with cryptocurrencies (BItcoin, Etherum ..), the "blockchain" is a technology that is transferable to other activities. In March, Carrefour announced the launch of its first food “blockchain” in Europe (on the Auvergne's Free-range Poultry).


The principle: A QR Code is affixed on the label of the article. When scanning it, the consumer accesses a set of information about the product (the place of rearing, the rearing method, the breeder’s name, the type of feed the animals are given). Thus, the whole life cycle of the product is made public and accessible. This chronology is not subject to the responsibility of only one individual who fills in the data in the blockchain. Indeed, each person at each link in the chain is responsible for the information they provide using a dedicated application. These data are verified and verifiable by all participants, making it a tool that is very difficult to falsify. Carrefour will apply this system to eight other animal and plant sectors of its brand. An innovative lead that should be followed by many...


Responsiveness: a key parameter!

So, to ensure a complete level of compliance in terms of traceability, I think it is essential to follow the information gathered every day at the field level and to communicate when it comes to those. The overall action plan of the company can thus be updated progressively by each employee. Responsiveness is an enabler. Indeed, if we detect a flaw in the system and act quickly, problems that may have occurred downstream will be avoided. This is the case, for example, for quantity errors in a food production. If one fills out 100kg instead of 10kg, this will cause problems in the stock as well as on the recipe compliance.

An effective traceability system will allow you not only to detect certain malfunctions within your company, but also to monitor the associated actions with a continuous improvement goal.


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