How product traceability coding benefits you as a food producer

Traceability to ensure the safe production and consumption of products is a key consideration for everyone involved in supply chains – from those involved in manufacturing and packaging the products, to the end-user consumer.

Manufacturing industries are highly reliant on accurate traceability processes to maintain the highest levels of hygiene and safety across global supply chains, including the food industry. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) states that food accounts for approx. £1.4 billion in international trade, with the UK being a large contributor to the figure.

The key concept of food traceability revolves around the keeping of records of foods, food ingredients and food-producing animals supplied to these businesses. Food producers of all sizes must abide by the requirements of the UK Food Safety Act and Article 18 of the General Food Law Regulation 178/2002 passed by the European Commission. This states that food companies should include addresses of suppliers, nature and quantity of products produced, and the dates of transactions and deliveries as part of these records.

Food production businesses in the UK have a duty of care to ensure that their products are produced in a hygienic environment and in a safe manner, supported with auditable records in the event of a recall or withdrawal being necessary. Traceability protects the consumer from potential illness, injury or worse.

In the event of a defect or material issues, traceability enables manufacturers to identify which of their products must be withdrawn from the market. Or, if a recall is required, enables consumers to see whether they have purchased compromised products and should therefore destroy or return them.

As part of the traceability process, a producer should display batch/lot numbers and expiration dates of individual products onto the respective primary packaging. These codes give consumers confidence in knowing that a product is safe to eat or drink; and in the case of higher value products, that the products are authentic rather than counterfeit copies.

Product labels should typically include a batch/lot number along with a Use By or Best Before date (depending on the type of food within). A barcode will usually be included on the packaging as part of the supply chain traceability where products are sold by retailers or wholesalers. Most of this traceability information must then be recorded and stored safely – on Excel spreadsheets or in a database which interacts with factory management systems (ERP, MES, WMS etc.) A Food Business Operator (FBO) must be able to identify from whom and to whom a product has been supplied – known as “one-up one down” where the immediate supplier and customer of the product is identified.

When to use Best Before and Use By dates on a product?

Use By is about the safety of a product and is more of a definitive cut-off date, whereas Best Before is about quality and therefore recommends that food is consumed before a certain date to maximise freshness and taste. BB dates are used more with frozen, dried and tinned foods.

Printing traceability coding on packaging

Many larger food and drink suppliers also assign a unique serial number (S/N) to each outer pack or case to help track these products through the supply chain. This is where the likes of label printers, inkjet coders and laser marking are used to print barcodes, lot numbers and expiry dates. edding Tech is one such specialist supplier of thermal inkjet technology for product traceability coding.

The edding compact printers have been designed with food and drink producers in mind, and suit the budget of manufacturers aiming for SALSA accreditation or higher. Advances in technology mean that individual product traceability coding is now accessible for smaller producers, as well. Food traceability and safety is being enhanced by coding and marking technologies as semi-automated processes. Where historically a label was printed by a label printer then fixed to a product by an operator, this process can now be fully-automated or semi-automated

Semi-automation is possible for even the smallest businesses and involves running a batch of products down a conveyor line which are then individually printed on ( batch and date information) then boxed. It allows streamlining of labour from hand-applying labels onto products to focusing on more business-critical functions. 

Full automation is employed by large companies to automate the entire production process; from cooking and sorting to packaging, labelling, cartoning, palletising and eventual delivery to the customer. This creates a real-time network of automated machinery which track each product through the entire production cycle.

Automation can be slowly introduced to a smaller company through semi-automation by replacing certain manual methods of labelling. In time these become fully-automated production lines as the business grows and the workforce develops into fewer operators who are more skilled at maintaining the required machinery. 

The move to more semi-automated traceability labelling will improve the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your production facility in many ways:

  • increased productivity and efficiency;
  • durables codes with precision placement on all packaging; 
  • reduced operational errors;
  • reduced packaging and consumable waste;
  • increased Return on Investment.

edding Tech supplies two innovative thermal inkjet printers to UK food and drink producers: the compact In-line 12 thermal inkjet printer; and the handheld Portable 12 solution. These coding and marking solutions are known to be versatile, easy to use, reliable and longlasting. Edding Tech ensures that your traceability codes look as good as your products do as they support your business’ continuous improvement plans. At edding they help you to supply food that every customer trusts!

About edding Tech Solutions GmbH:

edding Tech Solutions is on a mission to empower its business customers to do things with ink they didn’t think were possible. The edding in-line 12 and edding portable 12 are the first of many disruptive innovations the company is bringing to market. edding Tech is the technology subsidiary of edding, Germany’s most trusted name in ink.