What happens when traceability is compromised?

The cost of ‘the one that got away’

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, must have experienced an uncomfortable time when questioned on why he couldn’t track down a missing case of the Brazilian variant of Covid-19.  When asked to confirm if the Track &Trace system, used to link a Covid test to an individual,  tracked each and every test using a unique barcode, he sidestepped the issue; quoting that only 0.1% of tests were not able to be traced back to an individual.

Thankfully, the test in question was finally traced back, but at what cost? How much belief was lost in the Track & Trace system as a result, what was the level of reputational damage to the Government, and what impact will the incident have on our confidence in the Government’s handling of Covid in general?

Consequences of failed traceability for the food sector

The consequences of failed traceability labelling are not only vitally important in the health sector, but can be a matter of life and death in food manufacturing too. You only need to look at the number of allergy alerts announced by the Food Standards Agency to see that compromised traceability, especially in relation to allergen labelling, is a common occurrence. At best, food recalls are time-consuming, costly and reputation damaging, at their worst, they represent a threat to life.

Barcode labelling

Yet there are some easy traceability labelling solutions for food manufacturers and health care providers alike. Barcode label technology has been around for over 40 years and is accessible to all but the smallest manufacturers. Newer traceability codes, like 2d QR codes, with their base in smartphone technology, should be within easy reach of every food manufacturer.

Even the simplest traceability labelling system using tick box or printed allergen tags can ensure that ingredients are correctly identified through the manufacturing process; ensuring accurate information is transferred to consumer-facing product labels.

Traceability labels and tags

Whatever the manufacturing environment involves, traceability tags and labels can be designed to withstand the operational process. For example:

  • Temperature resistant ovenable tags can literally be cooked
  • Low-temperature materials can withstand being frozen
  • Water washable barcode labels will remain attached to trays, maintaining full traceability, even through washing and sanitizing processes
  • Water soluble labels are designed to be removed easily as trays pass through the washing process so as not to compromise traceability for the next batch of product using that tray
  • Thermal materials can be overprinted with unique barcodes or QR codes
  • Metal detectable materials are available to reduce contamination risk and satisfy BRCGS standards of traceability.

Like the Health Secretary, your traceability system may work for you the majority of the time, but it’s worth considering the impact of ‘the one that got away.

If you’d like our help to review your traceability labelling and discuss how we might improve it, please get in touch.