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Product traceability in protecting public health, consumers’ welfare

* Traceability is a key concern in products supply chain

* It supports recalls, brand confidence and loyalty –Stakeholders

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

The world is yet struggling with a heightened regime of product counterfeiting, adulteration, honest mistakes in production process, and outright faking of consumer products in the marketplace.

From manufacturing, entertainment, sports, health, automobiles to service sector, traceability is increasingly taking the centre stage in an organisation’s supply chain in recent times.

It is no wonder then, that most stakeholders in the product supply chain advocate that the importance of traceability in improving product quality and enhancing consumers’ well-being cannot be over-emphasised.

As regards the need for the phenomenon in the contemporary business world, a 2013 industry report has maintained that an effective product-traceability system should help to “isolate and prevent contaminated products reaching consumers in the event of a product recall.”

The concept also helps manufacturing concerns, especially food businesses to closely protect their brands, it stated.

Why product traceability?

Traceability has been described as “the ability to verify the history, location, or application of an item by means of documented recorded identification.”

The concept is regarded as an important link in protecting public health since traceability allows health agencies to more quickly and accurately identify the source of contaminated fruit or vegetables believed to be the cause of an outbreak of foodborne illness, remove them from the marketplace, and communicate to the supply chain stakeholders.

In terms of traceability in the food manufacturing sector, it is noted that in food production, traceability is the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail).

According to experts, traceability should mean that movements can be traced one step backwards and one step forward at any point in the supply chain in the process of ensuring consumers’ wellbeing and entire public health.

In Europe, for instance, the European Commission’s (EU) General Food Law Regulation/Food Law General Requirements explains traceability as “the ability to trace and follow food, feed, and ingredients through all stages of production, processing and distribution….

“It covers all food and feed, all food and feed business operators, without prejudice to existing legislation on specific sectors.”

Equally, Food magazine states that traceability takes centre stage in an organisation’s supply chain.

The publication recalls how Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has provided updated information for Australian food businesses regarding food-product traceability and product-recall obligations in the supply chain.

It adds that it’s important that all food and beverage suppliers understand their obligations in these two critical areas —one of which is that FSANZ requires food businesses to be able to provide information about the food it has on its premises and where it came from, including on request.

The publication, quoting FSANZ, also articulates that traceability in the Australian food sector should enable businesses to identify the source of all inputs —such as raw materials, additives, other ingredients and packaging— on the basis of “one step forward and one step back” at any point in the supply chain.

The concept enables food businesses to target the product(s) involved in a food-safety problem, thereby minimising disruption to trade and reducing potential public health risks.

An effective product-traceability system aids to isolate and prevent contaminated products reaching consumers in the event of a product recall.

It also helps Australian food businesses protect their brands, it said.

On the devastating effects of lack of traceability processes in the supply value chain, a report has said that such deficiency could lead to delays in the recall efforts. Steve Hather, Managing Director of RQA Product Risk Institute, posits that traceability remains an important part of an organisation’s product recall management plan.

To Hather, companies struggle with recalls —most often in those first critical stages of investigating incidents and making the decision to recall.

Lack of effective traceability processes and people trained in using them often leads to delays in actioning a product recall —one of the leading causes of “incidents” escalating into a “crisis”, he stated.

He, therefore, has advocated that companies need effective business continuity programmes to minimise disruption and get back into business as soon as possible after a recall.

Traceability in manufacturing sector

Operators in the real sector of the economy have expressed that the need for manufacturing traceability is increasing globally as commercial pressures grow to meet regulatory requirements.

By mitigating the risk of product recalls, reducing manufacturing costs, and quality controlling end-to-end traceability of processes, organisations can reduce inefficiencies across the supply chain.

The key purpose of traceable in manufacturing, it is noted, is its ability to help manufacturers to determine easily when a problem occurs and its associated details. It takes two forms: the first is known as “product tracking”, which is the capability to follow the path of a specified unit of a product through the supply chain as it moves between organisations.

Products are routinely tracked for undesirability, inventory management, and logistical purposes.

The second form, christened product tracing, is “the capability to identify the origin of a particular unit and/or batch of product located within the supply chain by reference to records held upstream in the supply chain.”

In this form, batch segregation helps in sorting out problems because when you determine which batch is bad, you only have to discard the single batch instead of destroying all of the products.

This is said to be helpful to companies in saving on resources. Products are traced for purposes such as product recall and investigating complaints.

It is thus recommended that manufacturing companies have a set process in place for handling customer complaints in an orderly and composed fashion.

This type of process can act as a “warning system” that there may be an issue with a product in terms of design, materials, etc.

Merits of products traceability

It is believed by many that setting up a traceability process will help manufacturers to be aware of any issues at hand and effectively communicate them to customers who have been affected by the mistakes.

Traceable product recalls help consumers to identify if the product they have purchased is subject to recall.

It also can help retailers to determine which supplier sent them the recalled product or give inspectors a heads-up.

Traceability, therefore, is substantial in the manufacturing industry. It is a critical requirement in manufacturing for several reasons. The first is the need to comply with regulation.

Another vital factor is the need for companies to better manage consumer relationships. By using it to reduce the time required to react to customer complaints, for example, organisations can typically ensure higher levels of customer satisfaction.

The regime can empower organisations, especially manufacturing concerns, to guarantee the origin of a product or raw material.

As such, it also allows companies to reduce risks by quickly searching impacted products and removing them from the marketplace as and when required.

It also helps companies to improve the efficiency and relevance of quality controls, while simultaneously reducing costs by minimising non-conformities (that is, deviations from product specifications, standards, or expectations).

The time is right for manufacturing companies to recognise the fact that applying traceability will identify the weak elements of the production system and also become an important tool for continuous improvement and operational performance in organisations.

When internal controls are tightened, the risks of defects escaping or entering the system will be significantly lessened.

More so, it is as well-reported that companies with traceability are almost “three times as likely to have the ability to monitor for regulatory compliance.”

So, lack of effective traceability processes leads to delays, just as often leads to delays in actioning a product recall, which is one of the leading causes of “incidents” escalating into a “crises” in the marketplace.

It is about efficiency, enhanced productivity, strengthening brand confidence, improving public health and consumers’ welfare.

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