Food Traceability: What’s On My Plate?

Traceability is the ability to trace any food through all stages of production, processing, and distribution (import and at retail). It’s the power to trace the history, application, or location of an object.

 When considering a product, traceability relates to:

· origin of materials and parts

· processing history

· distribution and site of the merchandise after delivery.

To enable food processing businesses to substantiate food safety claims, it’s not only important to trace products up to consumers but also the traceability system should reach facilitate identification of all food inputs, such as:

 · raw materials

· additives

· other ingredients

· packaging

Potential benefits of traceability 

1. Meet consumer demand for food production transparency

Consumers want access to product data that can help better inform their purchase decisions and provide additional assurance that products purchased were produced legally and therefore not subjected to fraud. Recent research suggests that consumers are increasingly using food production data to inform purchase decisions (e.g. “locally sourced”, “organic” and “antibiotic-free”).

2. Enhance the ability to identify, respond to and even prevent a food safety issue

An efficient traceability system can help isolate and stop contaminated products from reaching consumers. It can help food companies and governments more precisely address a food safety issue. It can also result in better inspection. Traceability could reduce the exposure to food outbreak risks by making it faster, more efficient, and more feasible to identify a source of food contamination precisely, thus containing the impact.

3. Support supply-chain optimization and reduce food loss

food traceability

Traceability enables more effective identification of vulnerabilities in the supply chain ( for example, determining and measuring food loss occurring at inspections or in transit), which will make food value chains more efficient and better equipped to meet growing demand. Besides, the underlying technology for traceability can garner additional efficiencies, such as accelerating product processing and reducing spoilage costs.

4. Validate sourcing claims to support sustainability goals

Better traceability could make it easier to validate sustainability claims, hold companies and governments accountable to their commitments, and more accurately measure the social and environmental footprint of production, in real-time and at a lower cost.

Over time these technologies could comprehensively track the environmental, economic, health, and social externalities of different agricultural production processes to calculate the “true cost of food”. 


Several technologies currently being used for traceability. 

A. Alphanumeric codes:

These are the sequences of numbers and letters displayed in various sizes on package or product labels. Writing and reading codes are done manually which requires significant human resources and cost. 

B. Barcodes:

food traceability

Barcodes is a series of parallel bars and spaces of varying widths on an item or product. This automatic, high reading speed, precise technology provides simpler, more economical, and accurate traceability systems.


Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a technology that uses radio waves to identify, classify, and locate ‘articles’ (objects, people, or animals). The main characteristic of RFID is that there is no requirement of physical contact or line of sight orientation between reader and tags. Electronic Product Code (EPC), a unique serialized code, is one of the common types of data stored in a tag. 

D. Product Markers:

Markers placed on food products can be chemical, physical, or biological. Physical markers include unique molecules or atoms that can be detected easily by UV rays, X-rays, fluorescence, etc. Chemical markers include those that create a distinct flavour, aroma, or absorbance. For example, vitamin placed in an alcoholic beverage.

Modern Transformative technologies to help food traceability

1. Internet of Things for real-time supply-chain transparency and traceability

Collect comprehensive and consistent data about food products along the supply chain.

food traceability

Key technology for traceability includes sensors, which facilitate the identification and tracking (e.g. animal GPS tracking), health monitors or condition tracking (e.g. rumen pH, temperature, etc.) Sensors can be paired with other capabilities, including: 

– Equipment and tools 

– tracking paired with on-farm automation (e.g. milking) and smart equipment (e.g. smart grain-drying silos, new robots for harvesting, etc.) 

– Data integration and artificial intelligence – data paired with artificial intelligence for smarter farming (e.g. prescriptive farming, crop monitoring, and fleet management)

2. Food-sensing technologies for food safety, quality, and traceability

Non-invasive and non-destructive food-sensing approaches (e.g. hyperspectral imaging, image analysis, and spectroscopy) identify information related to the structure of a product (e.g. near-infrared spectrometers use spot measurements to assess specific wavelengths to rapidly analyze moisture, protein and fat content), upload information to the cloud and analyze it through machine learning and imaging-processing algorithms.

3. Blockchain-enabled traceability

Where transaction data is stored, enabling potentially easy sharing, aggregating, and analyzing data.

Blockchain-enabled technology to potentially more efficiently track, aggregate, and share supply chain data.

Blockchain is distributed (a shared record-keeping system that eliminates the need to aggregate or reconcile across several separate ledgers), immutable (once information is added, it cannot be deleted) and requires a specific “key” to view specific information or add to the ledger.

Written By,

Lori Kale

Student, NIFTEM

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