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A Food Manufacturer's Guide To Traceability Software


Food manufacturers and distributors are more than familiar with the steps and precautions they need to take in order to comply with global food safety initiatives like FSMA, GFSI and SQF. What they may not be aware of is how beneficial software can be in aiding initiatives around lot traceability, safety audits and recall readiness. This guide highlights the functionality and features food companies need from their business software to aid in their farm to fork traceability and food safety efforts.

This guide covers:

  • Traceability and recall readiness best practices
  • GFSI, FSMA and SQF requirements
  • The layers of material tracking
  • How technology can be your best friend when it comes to ‘farm to fork” traceability


In this day and age of global product recall and tightening compliance regulation from both retail customers and government agencies, lot tracking is more important than ever. Every segment of the food manufacturing industry needs to ensure that their traceability efforts are up to the highest standard in order to do business with global retail brands. Some of the safety agencies include:

  • Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)
  • Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI 2000)
  • Food Safety System Certification (FSSC 22000)
  • BRC Global Standards
  • GS1 Global Traceability Standard which is used in the Produce Traceability Initiative specific to the fresh produce industry in the U.S. The GS1 System of standards is the most widely used such system in the world; about 1.5 million businesses use GS1 standards
  • Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) – established by FDA to examine the microbiology aspect of food safety; recommends that governments set benchmarks and allow industries to adapt
  • Supply Chain Council (SCC) – organization that targets improvements in supply chain management

Knowing the individual agencies and councils and their specific requirements is the first step you need to take when looking at what is required while you scale your business and start working with larger retail customers.

Not all product tracing systems are equal

Many food manufacturing companies already have some form of product tracing system and/or software in place. However, not all systems are created equal. Knowing how important traceability functionality is to running your facility, it’s important to consider the following:

  • How much information is the system able to record (nutrient info, point of origin, production scheduling)
  • How far forwards and backwards in the supply chain the system tracks
  • The precision that the system can pinpoint a product’s movement
  • What technologies are used to maintain records

Along with the above, the main functionalities that you need to be searching for are accurate product traceability and product recall. As your business scales and you begin to work with larger retailers, it’s imperative that you’re able to prove you can execute an accurate and timely product recall.

Prevention and proof

The old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is certainly applicable to product traceability. In fact, the FDA, lacking the resources to inspect the millions of shipments of food into the U.S. each year, has shifted its emphasis from inspect to prevention.

A holistic view of food safety will incorporate prevention-and-proof as well as the traditional record-and-response approach to lot tracking and recall. The prevention-and-proof approach features a number of key focal points, including:

  • Built-in quality procedures that can enforce quality audits at various stages of material movement, from receiving through to shipping. All relevant QC test data is recorded and retained permanently
  • A preventive maintenance module that ensures proper maintenance and upkeep of production equipment and the facility as a whole
  • Inventory picking based on “first expiry-first out” principals, enforcing inventory picking through directed or suggested methods
  • Inventory expiry analysis to show raw materials and finished goods that are expired or nearing expiration to keep them from completing processing and making their way to your customers.
  • Tracking the nutrients in an item and comparing those nutrients against the government’s recommended values
  • Full food safety reporting and document retention to satisfy the most thorough external audits.
  • Automated recording of dates of receiving, movement, transfers, picking and staging
  • Allergen recording
  • Lot number changes recorded as the product is produced; while tracking each lot number of stated ingredients
  • All relevant tests, production activities, inspections, incubations are recorded
  • Finished good shipment data is recorded, including lot number, name, address, phone number, email, transportation carrier, bill of lading number, mode of transportation, date of delivery and COA if applicable.
  • A complaint management system for handling, investigating and resolving complaints

The layers of production tracking

The various types of product tracking can be thought of in terms of layers. With production process being a single layer stacked on top of the previous process, you’re able to peel back each level of production to see where an error has been made. It also gives you the ability to look ahead and see where that material has gone to next. Within JustFood’s traceability software, you have the ability to track an item at several levels of detail:

  • Tracking at the item level: “Item” information only entered into your system essentially means no traceability, because every transaction for that item will look similar.
  • Tracking at the lot level: “Lot” refers to multiple units of an item tied together via a lot number.
  • Tracking at the serial number level: Every single unit of an item will have a unique serial number tied to it. This is less common than the first two levels (item and lot) but serial number is important if you need to record the catch weight of every case of an item.
  • Tracking at the container level: JustFood software features an additional layer of tracking called “Container Tracking.” This is more of an internal tracking method where you can track a group of items as part of a single “container number.” You can use this number to locate a group of inventory in your warehouse as opposed to having to look up every individual item/lot/serial number (also known as ‘license plating’).

A holistic view of food safety will incorporate prevention-and-proof as well as the traditional record-and-response approach to lot tracking and recall.

How deep is your level of detail?

The ability to easily see the entire history of the item/lot/serial number within a single interface is a critical component of your food traceability software. Why? Here are a few instances:

  • Where and how: From the time an item/lot/serial is purchased or produced, through the time it leaves your facility, every transaction is tracked in a single place in the software and can be reported on. Internal movements, such as moving inventory around the warehouse, are included in this tracking.
  • Who: You can see who made the transaction in case you’re doing an audit and want to review the employee's process and procedures.
  • When: JustFood’s traceability software includes the ability for all inventory transactions to be time-stamped – not just the date, but the exact time that the transaction took place.

Lot tracking for raw materials

It’s highly recommended to assign the level of lot numbering to the items you purchased as raw materials, even if the vendor doesn’t provide one to you. This is important because if a vendor tells you there’s an issue with the product you received from them last week, without that lot traceability you would have to guess which product it was. By assigning lot numbering to materials you’re able to review all the materials in the bad shipment and see other shipments that have those same materials.

Lot tracking by shift

Let’s say you are doing tracking at your facility, but the lot numbers are only changed at the start of each workday. You have three product shifts a day for that item. If you have to do a recall, you’ll attempt to trace your items back by lot number, which will require you to have to look at an entire day’s worth of inventory. However, if the lot number was changed at the start of each shift, if a recall happens, you can limit the trace of the exact shift that produced the item. That may also mean you have to recall less product.

Allergen tracking

If you are manufacturing food using ingredients or products that contain allergens, your lot tracking is even more important. Additional granularity around on the items that those raw materials come in contact with is required so that you know which products may contain traces of allergens and which do not.

Tracking goods from other countries

If your products and/or ingredients are coming from other countries, it is important that you are able to track the country of origin. From when the raw materials enter your facility all the way through to finished goods. Visibility into international good is a hot topic these days, given the publicity around some bad materials coming from various countries. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, requires exporters and importers of food in the U.S. to demonstrate proof of certified compliance with the new laws. Foreign suppliers will have to show proof of meeting U.S. standards for food production and distribution safety in order to be allowed to sell food in the U.S.

How fast are you product recalls?

Even if your company can meet the 24 hour minimum requirement set by the federal U.S. government to enact a product recall, many customers are starting to expect even faster results. What if you could get your product recall process down to 60 seconds? JustFood functionality lets you do bi-directional product recalls, using lot tracing data from the material level and up. Our system also integrates with Microsoft Word and Outlook, filling in the blanks of an official letters and alerts to your customers within a minute, ensuring you get the word out as quickly as possible.

FSMA includes a major section on tracing. The FDA is now mandated to conduct product recalls, which can take place if:

  • Food becomes contaminated – at any number of stages in the supply chain
  • An allergen isn’t listed on the food label
  • Food came in contact with an allergen at some point during processing
  • Foreign materials were found in the batch
  • Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations weren’t followed

QR codes for tracking – key for fresh pack/produce growers

The use of QR codes makes it easier for food companies to follow produce traceability guidelines. For produce specifically, a QR code scan can display all the product data across its supply chain. Example: a Q$ code on the side of a case of apples in your warehouse can be scanned by a device like a smartphone/tablet, which takes the user to a web page with a lot number, date of production, etc. QR codes can carry a lot more information than the traditional bar code and scanner gun. For JustFood users, there is an add-in that allows your ERP system to create and use QR codes. A quick update to your implementation enables QR codes to be placed almost anywhere in the Microsoft Dynamics environment – reports, forms, etc.


Many food manufacturers believe product traceability is more than simply a strictly enforced requirement, it is the right thing to do.

About JustFood
JustFood delivers software and services for the food industry. Our trusted food experts help your company lower costs, improve food safety, and manage compliance to keep customers successful. We do this by matching up the best software technology with the best business processes. Our food industry experts have built a product roadmap that takes you where you want to grow. Food processing and food distribution companies working with JustFood software will reduce implementation timeframes and implementation risks often associated with ERP. JustFood software and services are powered by the fastest growing ERP platform in the world, Microsoft Dynamics, and features food industry-specific functionality.