In the 2020 food world of ‘free from’ and ‘no added’, it is clear that the consumer’s need to know where food comes from and what it contains has to be met. This is especially critical in the bakery sector, explains Simon Noakes, SMB Director at Columbus UK, where sources for food ingredients have broadened, and where food manufacturers must adhere to strict quality standards and trace ingredients all the way through the supply chain process. Lot traceability is playing a significant role in helping manufacturers meet quality and customer expectations.
Law firm RPC reported in early 2019 that recalls of unsafe food products in the UK jumped 40 percent from 2018 – a worrying statistic at a time when consumers want greater reassurance that the food they eat is safe. Most manufacturers are fully committed to meeting these expectations – taking the necessary steps to ensure their food is nutritious and that their products and processes are safe and comply with relevant legislation. But mistakes can still happen – and this is where the ability to track using lot traceability techniques has a key role to play.
Here are four areas where lot traceability will make a difference for both bakeries and consumers:
- Meet legal obligations and enhance consumer safety
Ensuring consistent food safety within the bakery sector is no simple task. The variety of products, ingredients and storage conditions means relevant processes must be clearly understood and controlled to ensure general food safety requirements are met and shelf-life is maintained.
Several bakery products carry the threat of foodborne illnesses, so maintaining strict food safety controls is imperative to prevent the growth of pathogens and the formation of toxins. Even manufacturers that have the most stringent quality and hygiene standards in place are vulnerable to making occasional errors – products often need to be quarantined and disposed internally, or even recalled when issues have spread to the wider supply chain.
This is where lot traceability is highly effective because it allows manufacturers to track goods along the distribution chain. If a customer becomes ill from consuming a product, the manufacturer can trace an ingredient to a specific lot and action a recall on the entire contaminated lot with certainty.
- Effectively manage natural ingredients
With consumers demanding more natural ingredients in their food – such as malt extracts or fruit preparations, or the substitution of additives like emulsifiers, thickening agents and hydrocolloids with all-natural ingredients – product properties including taste, freshness and strength of flavour can vary.
But by assigning lots based on ingredient characteristics, products can be balanced depending on when and where they are used, thereby maintaining batch-by-batch consistency in terms of taste.
Natural ingredients may also have shorter shelf lives, so being able to identify which stock needs to be used first ensures that waste is kept to a minimum. This also has wider benefits for food manufacturers, supporting any specific sustainability or cost goals they may be targeting.
- Control quality and minimise the cost of recalls
Errors occur even when robust quality standards are in place, but it is the impact of these errors which must be tightly managed.
Situations can arise from a specific ingredient quality concern, an issue in the production process during a specific period, or be associated with a particular batch. By adding the capability to pinpoint product lots that have been impacted and being able to track them internally or externally, the scope and the cost of any disposal or recall can be minimised and dealt with efficiently, protecting both the consumer and brand.
- Boost authenticity and control ‘fakes’ using lots
Brand quality is key for end consumers. When supply chains are more complex, there is always the opportunity for products that are not authentic to mix with those that are, potentially compromising the quality of the end-product.
By using lot tracking and traceability, food producers can certify the authenticity of their products and identify exactly where ‘fake’ products may have entered the supply chain. This then enables effective, necessary measures to be taken.
Prepare for the future with advanced lot traceability
Food manufacturers must know precisely where each lot of every ingredient is from, and this is exactly what lot traceability achieves. This increased visibility into food sources enables both manufacturers and consumers to be confident that the food they eat is produced with the correct levels of care and control.
An industry-specific enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that incorporates lot traceability enables food manufacturers – and in this specific case, bakeries – to keep up to speed with changes in consumer demand and government legislation. As food manufacturers compete in the new decade and with customer expectations constantly evolving, enhanced lot traceability of ingredients and possible allergens will only grow in importance to support regulatory compliance and effective customer recalls.