Track and trace – the benefits of global standards

GS1 Australia’s Andrew Steele reports on the importance of traceability standards and other emerging local and global supply chain initiatives.

Enhanced product traceability, faster recalls and improved consumer safety should be at the top of the agenda when an organisation is detailing its supply chain process.

Traceability is key to consumer safety and an important part of any organisation’s product recall management plan, particularly in the food industry. It makes recalls and withdrawals more efficient. It ensures proper information about unsafe products can be given to consumers in the case of a recall. Not having an effective traceability process is one of the leading causes of product recall incidents escalating into a crisis.

A Product Traceability Expert Group set up by the European Commission released the Research Support for an Informal Expert Group on Product Traceability Report in December 2013, recognising the adoption of GS1 Standards as a best practice for improving supply chain traceability and consumer product safety.

GS1 was selected as one of the 15 expert members of the Product Traceability Expert Group, which was established in 2011 by the European Commission’s Directorate General Health and Consumers to address traceability and product safety issues.

Adoption of traceability standards was just one of several recommendations highlighted in the report, released by the group following two years of industry-wide dialogue. These recommendations focus on benefits for not only businesses and consumers, but also for market surveillance authorities with the common goal of protecting public safety and health.

As supply chains continue to span the globe and consumers purchase more products online, the ability to track and trace products helps properly identify dangerous products and remove them from the supply chain more effectively.

The group’s report outlined the following recommendations:

  • For economic operators, the group recommends labelling consumer products with product identification codes and automating traceability systems using global standards such as ISO and GS1 Standards for product identification, data capture and exchange in order to strengthen consumer safety and improve traceability between trading partners across multiple countries.
  • For market surveillance and other authorities, the group recommends including the use of barcodes in training and conducting traceability assessments in cooperation with private sectors as well as developing best practices to collect information about dangerous products when they cross EU borders.
  • For consumers, the group suggests raising more awareness on the importance of product identification and helping consumers alert authorities about suspicious or potentially dangerous products.

How can the employment of global standards help improve traceability and adhere to new regulations around traceability?
GS1 Standards are used around the world to identify products and capture, record and share data about these products. This information is key in laying the groundwork for traceability. Reliable data cannot exist if traceability systems are not automated. These automated systems rely on a common language of standards in order to “talk” to each other when capturing and sharing data.

How do consumers benefit from improved product traceability?
In the event of a safety issue or recall, dangerous products can be properly identified and removed from the market faster. In addition, efficient, standards-based traceability systems improve the accuracy of product information and labels.

As supply chains often span the globe across different industries and involve raw materials, additives, other ingredients and packaging through to Point-of-Sale (POS), ensuring traceability throughout the whole supply chain has become more challenging.

The ability for a company to successfully track and trace their products through their supply chain and retrieve them from the marketplace is a key component of a product recall event.

GS1 Recallnet is GS1 Australia’s secure web-based portal for the management of recall and withdrawal notifications. Based on global GS1 Standards and best practices, GS1 Recallnet simplifies and automates the exchange of information between suppliers, distributors and retailers as well as government agencies such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

By increasing the speed and accuracy of recall and withdrawal notifications, introducing global standards for traceability significantly decreases business and consumer risk, reduces costs, protects brands and ultimately helps improve food safety in Australia.

Why be standard?
Well-designed supply chain standards play a very important role in day-to-day business operations because:

  • They reduce complexity between and within organisations.
  • They make it easier to make the right decisions about purchasing hardware, software and equipment.
  • They reduce the costs of implementation, integration and maintenance.
  • They facilitate collaboration between trading partners in the supply chain, in a many-to-many relationship, making it quicker and easier to identify items, share information, order and receive parts or ingredients from suppliers, or ship goods to customers.
  • They help improve patient safety and reduce medication errors.
  • They enable global traceability and authentication.

Andrew Steele is Industry Manager – Food & Beverage at GS1 Australia.