With our specialism in software for food manufacturers and distributors, in particular meat and dairy processors, I’ve watched the un-folding of the horse meat scandal over the last couple of months with more than a little interest. Whilst none of our clients have been implicated, our understanding of standard food industry practice means we are only too aware of how this could happen to some pretty reputable names.
Put simply… while traceability is total within each organisation (from the time it arrives at goods inwards to the time it departs to the customer), you cannot track on a single system the entire supply chain from farm to fork. Unless, of course, you are the first and only processor in that supply chain. That does happen but frequently it does not.
So the fraud here was easier because the meat involved passed through multiple different traders and processors in multiple countries. If a major retailer wants to understand which animals are in a lasagne then, in the instance publicised, that would have meant queries into at least eight different company systems and more if any element of subcontracting was involved. Spread that across six countries and it’s no surprise that it took some time to unravel.
All of this is despite the big six UK food retailers insisting on 30 minute response times to traceability enquiries in their supply contracts. Sure you can do it for your organisation but about before the product or ingredients got to you?
So how can technology help tackle complete traceability not just for the industry but for the consumer? Having visited many food companies in the last few years I know that most in the UK are beyond question in this area but that’s no longer good enough. Food companies need to be able to prove total transparency to the consumer – and on demand!
How can this be achieved especially at a time when there is pressure on margins? Well electronic communication of information via systems like Dynamics Food (Microsoft Dynamics NAV plus SI Foodware) has to fill the gap here. Tier one food suppliers have to send electronic delivery notes called Advanced Shipping Notices (or ASN’s for short) which state not just what’s being delivered but what’s on which specific pallet or container. If you attempt to deliver to Sainsbury’s or Tesco, without having first sent your ASN, your delivery gets turned away.
ASN’s have got to be improved so that they also include traceability information that tracks the product(s) involved through every processing step, the farm it came from and the date it was slaughtered or picked. That’s going to mean those tier one manufacturers need ASN’s complete with batch trace information from all their suppliers as well. This is huge amounts of data that cannot be exchanged manually so extensions to the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards such as EDIFACT have to be the way to go.
I guess the ultimate is that consumers can use a smartphone to read a QR code on a pack of meat in the supermarket that takes them to a website with the dates and time that every supplier touched the product right back to when and where the animal was born. Technology is capable of delivering this at little, if any, extra cost (after the initial investment). It will need industry-wide change but we believe the market will drive it.
And Dynamics Food from Technology Management will be ready when it does!