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Feeding America relies on GDSN and barcoding for safe and nutritious food

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

As a central conduit for food banks distributing to more than 61,000 shelters, pantries and soup kitchens, Feeding America sees food safety as paramount. Yet, while food safety is most often associated with safe handling and product recalls, increased awareness of food allergies and other dietary restrictions has substantially elevated the importance of monitoring donated food as it relates to product ingredients.

Working with tens of thousands of food products daily, Feeding America must rely on accurate product information to ensure the food it provides one in eight Americans is fresh, safe, nutritious and, in some cases, allergen-free.  Food safety concerns and logistics carry even more weight for Feeding America when working with the highly perishable, ready-made foods frequently donated by restaurants.  As a result, Feeding America takes a two-pronged approach to food safety: (1) utilizing standards-based data exchange to efficiently recall potentially unsafe products, and (2) capturing data points that will allow agencies to distribute food that meets consumers’ dietary restrictions.

To implement our approach, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization has developed a unique partnership with data provider 1WorldSync to take advantage of the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN). Leveraging bar codes and corresponding data, more than 15,000 manufacturers across the globe utilize 1WordSync to store and exchange product information through the GDSN. In fact, each Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) in the GDSN is linked to as many as 700 pieces of product-specific data — also a growing number. Subscribers to GDSN, which include many top-name retailers, distributors, chain restaurants and other operators, can use the information for inventory and supply chain management, traceability and food safety, and accessing important nutritional, allergen and other information. For non-profit Feeding America, this means getting food to people who need it while balancing concerns for both food safety and health.

“The wealth of information available via 1WorldSync allows us to greatly improve the efficiency of our supply chain and free resources, enabling us to get more food to more people in need,” said Kevin Lutz, Feeding America’s senior vice president of technology.

When it comes to restaurants, a rapid turnaround from donors looking to divert food from the waste stream and into the hands of people in need creates challenges around accuracy and accounting. To address these concerns, Feeding America is creating a web-based gateway to streamline the flow of food from the donor to the agency. This “online marketplace” will link donors directly to volunteers and agencies and eliminate the need for food to pass through the food bank before distribution. In addition, it will ensure that donors and agencies get credit for their efforts by capturing details of the donation. Unlike shelf-stable foods, however, perishable, ready-made food items rarely have bar codes. This is one of the issues Feeding America hopes to address in partnership with 1WorldSync, the GDSN and the growing network of food rescue participants.

In addition to food safety and inventory management, Feeding America deals with even broader health concerns through its partnership with 1WorldSync. In an effort to equip food banks and agencies with information to help clients make healthier, more nutritious food choices, Feeding America launched the Foods To Encourage (F2E) initiative. The F2E designation provides an easily identifiable indicator of whether or not the product meets FDA guidelines for nutritional preference. Using product bar codes and the GDSN, Feeding America can easily and quickly look up ingredients, nutrients and allergens for each item, and run tests to determine what foods meet the F2E criteria.

Feeding America currently serves its population through a network of more than 200 food bank distribution warehouses and more than 2,000 trucks, which then serve as liaisons to more than 61,000 people-facing feeding agencies. Though most closely resembling a regional distribution center in years past, the traditional role of food banks has been rapidly changing and increasing in complexity. In 2012, Feeding America received 25% of its donated goods from retailers and another 23% from manufacturers. The vast majority of these products now have bar codes, which means that member food banks can quickly access detailed product information in the GDSN via 1WorldSync and other GS1-approved data pools. In the years to come, this partnership with 1WorldSync and the GDSN will enable Feeding America to reduce operating expenses, improve supply chain operations and provide the information necessary for our clients to make appropriate food choices. Additionally, restaurants that donate to Feeding America can rest assured that the food they generously donate won’t cause major food safety or health hazards for people struggling to get enough to eat.

Kelly Jackson is the National Office Technology Project Manager for Feeding America based in Chicago. Her background includes a range of systems implementations such as large-scale conversions, reporting and technical communications initiatives, and process-driven technology solutions across a variety of industries in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.