With food safety on everyone's minds – especially on the heels of recalls involving romaine lettuce, ground beef, chicken and other products – it can be reassuring to learn how quickly public and private safety net mechanisms respond to emergencies, removing compromised food from supermarket shelves. What may be less obvious is the role labeling often plays in product recalls, speeding up the process of search and remove.
For example, a recent article by Baking Business highlighted the ability of labeling, barcoding and data management technology to not only reduce the risk of recall, but also save a company time, money or even its image when a recall gets underway.
For baked goods and snacks, or any other perishable food products, the big advantage of labeling and barcoding – and the technology that comes with them – is that they benefit more than simply consumer convenience. They can also improve traceability for the whole process, start to finish.
Labeling makes tracing easier
With larger food production facilities increasingly relying on automation, labeling technology is often a big part of that process. As part of a more comprehensive, all-encompassing data management system, labeling actually assists in improving traceability, whether on the production floor or in the distribution network when products are shipped out to retailers.
For example, take the case of an ingredient like flour, which sometimes arrives in multiple lots, but can be mingled together in a common silo. Since FDA Food Safety Management Act rules state that ingredient lot number tracking must be done where it is reasonably achievable, it would be prudent to keep records of suppliers, shipment dates and ultimate use of the flour.
Tracking ingredients and lots
There is technology available, such as the PRIMS system by Focus Works, which lets you track individual lots of a specific ingredient like flour. So when a problem such as contamination or spoilage occurs, the data management system can not only provide information on the ingredient's origin, but also track it through the production process, even to the recipes used, the products made and the labels printed for point of sale.
As with other technology in the digital age, there have been tremendous improvements made in the area of data management – and its usefulness for recalls – in just the past few years alone. Barcode scanner technology, in particular, has made significant strides, according to Bob White, president of Focus Works, quoted by Baking Business. "We now use scanners that use imaging to view and piece together a damaged label so you can still read it," he said.