Food traceability — know what you eat

The dramatic increase in global trading and the complexity of supply chains have caused several issues concerning the authentication of food

by LYDIA NATHAN/ pic by TMR FILE

AS CONSUMERS are becoming more aware of what they eat, the need to know the origin of the food and its authenticity seems to grow in recent years.

Along with the nutritious value, consumers these days are also concerned about the practice behind the production of each item that is bought to be served at home.

Food traceability is defined as the possible historical tracking of food products — raw and semi-finished items — which ensure finished products are safe for consumption.

Malaysia has had its series of food recalls, but reaction has been slow and proven challenging in determining the root cause, says Stummer

SYSPRO Asia Pacific CEO Rob Stummer said the dramatic increase in global trading and the complexity of supply chains have caused several issues concerning the authentication of food.

“With the rise of global product recalls, more regulations have been implemented to protect the end consumer than ever before.

“In addressing food safety issues in Malaysia, Food Hygiene Regulations 2009 includes a provision for traceability, but it is mainly a paper-based system that passes information along with the commodity,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.

However, Stummer said this system can be prone to failure, either inadvertently or deliberately due to fraud like non-compliant halal products.

“This is why there is a need to establish a technology-based traceability system to support the food safety surveillance programme in Malaysia.

“The country has had its series of food recalls, both in the food and beverage manufacturing and other industries in the past, but reaction has been slow and proven challenging in determining the root cause,” Stummer said.

He added that food scares are known to be associated with microorganisms, new technology, environmental pollution or changes in co-product management.

“For instance, the mad cow crisis in 1996 showed the deficiencies in monitoring food and feed in the European Union, and caused alarm not only there, but elsewhere, which developed a sense of mistrust among consumers concerning quality and food safety.

“It became increasingly essential to establish a robust traceability system to minimise the production and distribution of unsafe or harmful quality food,” he said.

Stummer said to end this, SYSPRO’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform came up with a comprehensive traceability system that offers full visibility throughout the value chain to ensure quality and to remain compliant.

“SYSPRO 8.0 offers clients a trace and accountability for every suspect item throughout the value chain, proper contact management to be able to identify and begin correspondence with affected customers and lots tracking.

“It can track from farm to fork all the elements of ingredients and processes, like from a fast-food chain.

“We can identify which farms the raw materials (chicken) came from, the days they were introduced into our factory, storage units, temperatures and which team member interacted with the ingredients,” Stummer said.

Shipping and storage conditions are also tracked, down to the individual businesses the products are delivered to.

“Most importantly, the entire information chain is digitised — making it easier to refer to, identify and even automate food recall procedures with automated alerts and recall notifications, if necessary.

Syspro’s ERP platform came up with a comprehensive traceability system that offers full visibility throughout the value chain to ensure quality and to remain compliant – syspro.com

“The solution can capture a significant amount of details of each batch, including best before, dispatch, use by, sell by and internal dates,” Stummer added.

He said some of the main challenges in the industry include adjusting inward supply opportunities and distribution, as different countries have different regulations.

“Covid-19 has certainly disrupted global supply chains, and while we hope borders and logistics open up soon, we don’t know the actual timeline for this or the cumulative impact that it would have had,” he said.

Stummer added that Malaysia’s food system depends much on the tendrils of international trade to criss-cross the world in a complex network of buyers, sellers, processors and retailers, all of whom are motivated to keep costs as low as possible and operations lean.

“But the issue for many Malaysian companies is the over-reliance on paper-based records in warehouses and distribution centres, and this poor visibility of data and a lack of flexibility make the existing supply chain systems vulnerable to a crisis,” he said.

This is in addition to existing issues faced by the industry and ones that can be fixed by a secure system to navigate concerns.

“For several businesses, it is also challenging the ‘old school status quo’, the ongoing challenge of modernising, primarily through advanced technology for processes that have been used for the duration of the business,” Stummer said.

Meanwhile, he said businesses should take time to rethink models and increase collaboration with supply chains to become more efficient, thus lessening the shock they are exposed to.

“Embracing technology to manage warehousing and transportation will help retailers reduce the burden on labour, while adopting machine learning in the forecasting approach will also help spot abnormalities fast so manufacturers and suppliers can adjust immediately,” he said.

Stummer added that being aware of the manner in which technology is rapidly accelerating is also vital to keep up with the times.

He said as a result of the pandemic, most businesses only accept contactless digital payments via credit cards, smartphones and smartwatches to avoid the spread of the virus.

The logistics industry also underwent a huge change, with contactless delivery services where goods are left at the door or picked up from a designated location and now even delivered by drone.

“Key technologies that form part of Industrial Revolution 4.0, including big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and blockchain are establishing more resilient supply chain management systems going forward by enhancing the accuracy of data and this should be utilised,” Stummer said.