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The food supply chain is one of the most complex and highly regulated in the world. Food safety in the U.S. is a key concern, and food traceability requirements from the FDA have increased along with the number of costly recalls that food manufacturers and retailers have had to manage. Consumers are also much more aware of food recalls, which can damage a brand if not handled promptly and openly.

Utilizing automatic identification technology like barcodes and RFID can help automate food traceability processes and streamline recalls. Integrators like Imprint Enterprises offer a variety of solutions for labeling and tracking both hot and frozen foods, bagged products, and even livestock to provide farm-to-fork traceability. Our customers successfully use automatic identification to improve food traceability and supply chain operations; here are four ways:

Improving Identification: The EU Food Law, the U.S. Bioterrorism Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act require business to collect and store large amounts of information about where food comes from and who has handled it. Automatic data collect technology can improve the efficiency and and reduce the cost of these efforts.

Technology not only improves compliance, but can also improve accuracy and efficiency across the entire supply chain. Barcodes or RFID technology can reduce or eliminate shipping and receiving errors and improve inventory management, while also providing an auditable record of which entities have handled which products. And for businesses that already use automatic I.D. systems, upgrading to the newest technologies can help provide further benefits and improvements.

Accelerate Recalls: Food recalls are often broad and extremely expensive. In order to ensure the safety of the public, large amounts of products are often recalled even when just a single lot or batch from a specific facility are contaminated. By combining the traceability information required by the FDA with specific product labeling data included in a barcode label or RFID tag, companies can enable highly targeted recalls that only affect the specific products affected. By increasing the amount of data on the unit-of-use packaging, manufacturers can limit recalls — even sending notifications to customers who have purchased the affected products based on point of sale data.

Improve Dock Productivity: With barcodes and RFID, as soon as items are scanned at receiving or shipping, time and data stamps can be applied and database records automatically updated to improve food traceability. Using manual processes not only makes this level of food traceability impossible, it also leads to inefficient dock operations. By moving from barcodes to RFID, EPCglobal estimates that companies could save between $0.01 and $0.03 per case at receiving based on a seven-month study at a distribution center. Receiving errors could be eliminated as well.

Automatic identification also enables cross-docking operations, in which dock workers can receive cartons and then immediately relabel them for shipping without having to put them away in the warehouse. Crossdocking can be extremely valuable when shipping perishable items, as it can cut transit time substantially.

Consider Your Operating Environment: Food packaging is exposed to a number of temperature and environmental extremes, particularly in cold chain applications where products are stored in freezers or refrigerated warehouses and moved onto and off of trucks. Barcode and RFID labels can be damaged, absorb moisture, and even fall of if the adhesive fails.

Make sure you select labels, printing materials, and adhesives that can withstand these temperature shifts and exposure to moisture. ARMOR, for example, offers thermal transfer printing solutions that can product durable barcode and human readable information that maintain legibility in moist or cold environments. The company’s wax-resin and resin inks comply with both EU and U.S. FDA requirements for food contact.

Food traceability also requires cooperation across the supply chain, from growers to retailers. Automatic identification solutions can not only help improve your ability to internally track products and respond promptly to recalls, but can also enable more efficient data sharing with your trading partners. With this cooperation and the right solutions, food traceability is a manageable task your team can accomplish efficiently and accurately, keeping your company in compliance and protecting your customers and your brand.

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