What is the significance of barcoding every single apple in a mountain of fruit at the supermarket? It seems a tedious process when an apple is surely just an apple. But, an apple is much more than what is seen at face value.
It comes with a history – a place of origin, a past in which it was grown in specific soil and shipped in a certain container.
This is valuable information, even for the humble apple, as a food recall could affect any product at any time.
Many products go through a number of processes before landing on a consumer’s plate.
Unfortunately, there have been many instances where products are recalled for a number of reasons.
Products are often recalled due to potential presence of glass or metal, or e.coli contamination.
Items can also be nixed in cases where cross contamination occurs, such as wheat being present in a gluten-free product.
In August alone, Food Standards Australia New Zealand warned of nine products that had been recalled due to undeclared allergens or the presence of foreign matter.
Keeping track of products
To help keep track of products, GS1 Australia offers barcode numbers based on current global standards as well as services to help its clients trace items and action recalls with ease.
GS1 Australia recall services sales manager, Andrew Brown, said the traceability of products was important, including for fresh produce such as apples.
In early 2018, rock melons from one Australian producer needed to be recalled. It became a difficult task as it was hard to distinguish the good rock melons from the contaminated ones, Brown said.
This resulted in many rock melons being taken off Australian shelves that were not necessarily in the recalled batch, or from that particular company. “Because the rock melons weren’t labelled, it had a big impact.
Most retailers and all consumers didn’t know which rock melons were affected and which ones weren’t. So the impact wasn’t just on the company that had the product issue, it also flowed on to the rest of the industry,” he said.
“That instance showed it is important to identify which products had been affected to facilitate the quarantine of only the affected ones.”
In instances where products aren’t labelled properly, retailers often take all similar products off the shelf to be on the safe side, he said.
GS1 Australia works with the fresh product market to get products labelled correctly. Barcoding fresh produce is becoming more popular as people understand the importance of it, he said.
Labels help from an environmental impact as well. Having labels on fresh produce and other products saves food from ending up as rubbish if it is actually ok to sell, he said.
“Our role at GS1 is to help industry in these situations. The more that get on board, the greater the benefit for other companies.”
Working for a common goal
GS1 is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to help food industries by minimising waste and harm. “The recall portal was designed by industry for industry,” said Brown.
GS1 Australia helps companies beyond the barcode. GS1 gives companies the power to figure out how much of a product may be affected.
For example, this could be based on where a particular product was packaged rather than where it was grown. “They need to be able to know what products have gone where and why,” said Brown. The same cereal may have been made in different factories and may not all need a recall, for instance.
GS1 Australia could help companies find out how, where and when products were moved to a new location, he said. “GS1 facilitates not just traceability, we help conduct the recall,” said Brown.
Getting prepared before a crisis hits
A company needs to be able to ask its trading partners, such as supermarkets, to action a recall as soon as possible. “Companies need to prepared to act in a crisis,” said Brown.
“In lots of situations, in most organisations within the food industry, they will have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points programme or another food safety programme designed to stop these situations occurring. But in most instances, we would expect that a product recall comes from an unforeseen situation,” he said.
“What we help organisations do as part of a mock programme, is create a template recall notice. That template enables them to go into a product recall meeting prepared to get the right information, rather than having that meeting, going away and filling out forms, and then having more meetings.” Communicating well in the first instance is key, said Brown.
Having worked with numerous companies, Brown realises that many companies aren’t prepared for recalls.
This means that when a product is recalled, it can take days to action as phone calls and email communication go back and forth, he said.
“There’s a time factor that’s very important. You want to get that notice up as quickly as possible. Getting prepared and having a structure is very important.
“A company has to identify what part of production is affected, and then find out all the locations the product went to.
“If they’ve got all the information together, they can probably get a notice done in 20 minutes for a recall, but the limiting factor is having all of the information at hand,” said Brown.
Recalling products quickly, also helps keep a brand’s reputation intact, he said. “Consumers want to feel like they can buy your products again.”