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Food-item traceability: Why operators must stay engaged

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

It was in 2006 that we at UFPC and our fellow members of the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative felt it was time to address the data problems in our industry. Incomplete, inaccurate, manually updated product data slows down supply-chain transactions, No. 1, and more concerning, it may delay our response time when it comes to food safety. Then, and even today, we are still using manual systems to trace products back to the source when a recall or outbreak occurs, and this can sometimes take days.

Food Safety Modernization Act Section 204 deals directly with item tracing, and while it does not currently involve restaurants right now, it does include a time frame for re-evaluating when restaurants should be involved. We may not have a choice eventually, but the more proactive about establishing traceability we can be now, the more prepared we will be for the future. Here are the top five reasons why restaurants need to pay attention to item traceability now:

1. Standards are being set. We need to build standards into our item systems in order to keep track of our food supply and trace products through the supply chain. GS1 US provides that as a global standards organization. Standards help us talk the same language; the “I say tomato, tomato” phenomenon is gone when there is one universal number, a global trade item number, assigned to products, not multiple identifiers for the same thing. Standardized electronic data also establishes the platform for traceability; it gives us the ability to capture extended data, such as manufacturer lot origin, production and expiration dates, and other product data that humans physically cannot capture with accuracy and efficiency just by writing numbers down on a pad of paper. Can you scan a bar code and easily get this information? Yes, thanks to GS1 standards, but the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative still needs all of our help to get us there. Operators need to stay engaged in these conversations.

2. Business practices are being aligned. There are many business reasons why restaurants and operators should be more actively involved in adopting standards for product identification and tracking: more accurate and enhanced data, better management of the supply chain and of our inventories, and improved purchasing efficiencies to name a few. By driving technology best practices, we are finding business reasons for electronic data capture that deliver real benefits. Traceability is just one of the outcomes.

3. We’re building public confidence. If it takes us days, instead of hours, to get the records to trace a tainted product back to the source to prevent the spread of a foodborne illness outbreak, and that impacts our credibility as an industry supply chain. With standardized numbering and better record-keeping, we can more quickly identify the source of the problem.

4. We’ll serve better quality, fresher food. Through electronic traceability, we can better manage our inventories — in the near future we can be scanning products in our inventories to determine shelf life and receive expiration date alerts. All of these things will ultimately lead to a better product for our customers and a better experience at our multiple restaurant locations. We’ll also experience less waste.

5. Technology is our future. Restaurants are just now beginning to explore how technology can help us improve our businesses, systems and supply chain, from touchless pay to tablet menus and online ordering. Bar code scanning of products through the entire supply chain — from the manufacturer’s lot through the distributor’s warehouse, to the restaurant back door and storage rooms — is just another technology that will also help us standardize and modernize our supply chain. Traceability can be a hard thing to get our arms around as a business operator. But electronic systems and technologies will help get us there and beyond.

Want to get involved in the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative? Get more information or talk to your suppliers about their involvement and how you work together using GS1 standards.

Brenda Lloyd is the director of equipment purchasing and systems at Unified Foodservice Purchasing Co-op, the exclusive supply-chain management company for Yum! Brands. A 30-plus veteran of the foodservice industry, Lloyd has worked in all facets of supply-chain management, from processing and systems to distribution, purchasing and more. For the past 18 years, she has served in various roles for UFPC, most recently as director of equipment purchasing and systems. As an active member of GS1 US and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, Lloyd has helped lead efforts to enhance the traceability of food products for a safer, fresher and more efficient food supply chain.