Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Food manufacturing and selling have never been easy at any time because of the heavy burden for food suppliers in general to be accountable to the consumer in terms of quality and safety. Earlier every one assumed that once a sample of a food conforms to the specifications laid down in statute books, they were safe vis-a-vis any responsibility arising out of any safety incidence from consuming their products. Whether it is the lax attitude on the part of the safety vigilance agencies or inherent faults in the manufacturing system, there have been increasing episodes of food poisoning requiring recall of hundreds of products from the market costing billions of dollars to the industry. It is against this background that more stringent and reliable systems are being considered for "tracing" the sources of foods/raw materials/inputs used by the manufacturers, the intention being restricting the damage caused in the event of a food poisoning episode. While it may sound simple, for many manufacturers deploying complex manufacturing methods and using a number of input materials obtained from multiple sources, it is a nightmarish situation. Emergence of logistical service providers using IT enabled software systems is timely to help the food industry to meet the new challenges. Here is a glimpse into this churning process the industry is going through to satisfy the safety agencies vis-a-vis new situation.  

"A white paper prepared last year by Irista, a supply chain software and services provider, reports, "This year alone, there have been recalls of hot dogs contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, dinner buns produced with eggs not listed as ingredients causing allergic reactions, pizzas made with milk not listed on the product's label, and most recently, another large recall of E. coli contaminated hamburger." According to numbers compiled by RedPrairie, also a supply chain software producer, the FDA issued more than 400 food product recalls between January and August of last year. And the pace of food recalls is growing. It's not that the food industry is becoming less safe: Food producers have made enormous investments in food safety. But in the aftermath of food contamination incidents in recent years, the government is paying more attention than ever to food safety. As a result, food distributors are under greater pressure than ever to keep track of where their products have been and where they are now. And distributors have to know their shipment history in greater detail than ever. Tracking where the goods are and where they've been is important not only for complying with the law, but also for protecting the company and its brands.On those occasions when something does go wrong, the ability to act quickly, to know where all the affected goods are, and to know that they have been recovered depends in large part on complete information on every inbound and outbound shipment".

While incorporating supply chain software program in well managed food companies may not pose much of a logistical problem, how effective it can be in to day's global food business system is a question that will haunt both the safety agencies as well as the industry. The most difficult problem to be encountered is getting reliable and actionable details of suppliers from third world countries from where some of the inputs are sourced. Also distributors will be in greater trouble since many food products are sourced from third country manufacturers like China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia etc where the safety vigilance infrastructure and practices are not well established. Ultimately how the global food business will be affected by the current recognition of the importance of traceability in the supply chain will have to be seen in the course of next two years after the implementation of the new policy by countries like the US.


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