Foodservice lags in traceability

Product recalls can be devastating to the restaurant industry, yet traceability along the foodservice supply chain is complicated and outdated. “Foodservice is where retail was 40 years ago,” said Syndee Stiles, vice president of operations support for McLane Foodservice, at Restaurant Leadership Conference session on traceability.

Back in the 1970s, retail introduced bar codes. The pharmaceutical industry has gone a technological step further, using RFID tags to trace product from pallet and carton to bottle. Foodservice, on the other hand, has no uniform standards along the supply chain. Manufacturers, processors, third-party warehouses, consolidators and distributors use different languages to mark product and bar codes are too simplistic and not universal.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, passed in January, is designed to enhance tracing and recordkeeping in foodservice. High-risk foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables and packaged goods, are the focus. Restaurants are currently excluded from recordkeeping, but that might change in the next two years as the industry implements pilot programs and gets feedback.

In the meantime, Foodservice GS1 US, introduced in 2009, is working on developing uniform standards along the supply chain. “This initiative is really important to the future of foodservice and has broad support from the distributor community,” noted Stiles. “Check to see if your purchasing organization is participating in GS1 US.” Its two goals are data integrity and standardization along the supply chain through bar coding.

GS1 bar codes are expanded from the retail model. Each provides a unique case ID of an item; time, date and location are captured by scanning. “They’ll enable everyone along the supply chain to use the same language and information,” Stiles added. She stressed that everyone must make an investment in adapting the system. “It not only will simplify the industry’s traceability system, it will increase productivity,” Stiles concluded.

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