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Traceability is key to food risk management: report

A recent report for the Centre for Food in Canada recommends that all players in the food supply chain be able to trace products back and forward


Ottawa – For the food processing industry to build trust among consumers and to ensure public safety, it needs to have a robust system of traceability.

So says the Centre for Food in Canada (CFIC), a Conference Board of Canada multi-year initiative, in its recent report, Forging Stronger Links: Traceability and the Canadian Food Supply Chain.

The Conference Board established the CFIC to address the food industry, which impacts Canadian consumers in myriad of ways: their lives, health, jobs and economy.

The CFIC has a dual purpose:

• to raise public awareness of the nature and importance of the food sector to Canada’s economy and society; and
• to create a shared vision for the future of food in Canada – articulated in a framework for a Canadian Food Strategy that will meet our country’s need for a coordinated, long-term strategy for change.

This latest report recommends that all players in the food supply chain be able to trace where they got a product or ingredient from, and where they sent that product.

In other words, it recommends that each firm in the food supply chain needs to be able to accurately trace its products or ingredients one step forward and one step back in the supply chain.

More effective

Many food industry firms in Canada already comply with the principle of one-step-forward and one-step-back because of export requirements, private standards, and/or their own internal food safety practices.

To be fully effective, however, traceability systems must all link together so that the entire food supply chain is covered. The one-step-forward and one-step-back approach to traceability can be universally implemented, but, at the same time, lessens the financial burden borne by companies.

Complex, costly

While it might be ideal for companies to be able to trace a product or ingredient throughout the entire supply chain, such a process is extremely complex and prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, evaluations of this kind of system found little or no benefit to food safety, so it may not actually be a great improvement over the one-step-forward and one-step-back approach.

Traceability is especially crucial during food safety incidents – both to speed up the response and to reduce the scale of product recalls, which benefits both consumers and the food industry.

The report highlights actions that governments, industry, and others could take to strengthen traceability’s role in the food supply chain:

• mandate minimum traceability requirements so that suppliers can trace their products and ingredients one step forward and one step back;
• make traceability systems universal and comprehensive;
• develop traceability systems to be compatible, so that information about food products can be communicated quickly and easily throughout the supply chain and with government authorities in the event of a safety problem;
• make premises identification mandatory for poultry and livestock producers;
• require detailed information to handle emergencies quickly;
• help to fund firm’s start-up costs and encourage flexible, cost-effective systems;
• promote the benefits of participation in traceability systems to all players in the food supply chain; and
• use continuous evaluation to improve system performance.


Deanna Rosolen

Deanna Rosolen

Managing Editor, Food in Canada
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