Food Transparency: What's Possible for 2021 and Beyond

100 YEARS OF FOOD RECALLS

food transparency: what's possible for 2021 and beyond

Before we dive in to learn more about Food Transparency: What’s Possible for 2021 and Beyond, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.  It might seem that food recalls are relatively new and you probably remember the first spinach outbreak in 2006 because it was all over the internet. However, food companies, and recalls, have been around for numerous years, more like a century. 

You might not be aware of the older food recalls because you weren’t born, or perhaps you missed the news because the internet wasn’t in existence. Hard for the millennials to believe-I’m sure. The first recorded food recall was as early as 1920 and there have been several major recalls since. If you are interested, go here to find the 10 biggest food recalls in American history.

Now, it’s important to realize the gravity of this situation from a food company’s point of view. If we take a look at the history of record-keeping we realize it’ means a lot of papers and binders stuffed into filing cabinets. Although, we’ve been living in the age of technology for quite some time and there really is no excuse for companies to not have their record- keeping requirements in digital format. However, we all know how hard it can be to break old habits and if you remember how long it took you to move from paper to paperless then you remember this arduous and time-consuming task.

WELCOME TO THE 21st CENTURY

So why the fuss over digital records? Manual record-keeping practices (paper and file cabinets) slows investigations (e.g. location of files, consistency/completeness of data, interpretation, legibility, etc). The more delays that exist in the supply chain, the longer it takes to trace tainted food, and the greater the potential for more individuals to get sick. All of these manual problems go away with digital records and significantly increase the speed, accuracy and consistency by which the FDA can get answers to their investigation. food Transparency: What’s Possible for 2021 and Beyond

The optimal equation should be: the faster the FDA gets their answers, the faster they determine the source, the faster the product gets pulled from the supply chain, the more lives we save. All of this starts with putting data into a database and allowing technology to bring much-needed speed and consistency to the process.

TRANSPARENCY AND FULL DISCLOSURE

Food Transparency: What’s Possible for 2021 and BeyondBefore we take a look at the technology available to integrate the supply chain, we do want to point out that one of the reasons a company might not be willing to have their records readily available is because many companies could lose business if full traceability is disclosed. Would you buy a piece of fruit that has been sitting in a pack shed for months or do you want to believe your produce is “fresh”?

Full transparency reveals product that has been stored in conditioning warehouses for months on end. This transparency would eliminate the idea of “freshness” with consumers. With countless other examples, this holds true for both the buy side and the supply side in the food chain. Therefore, FULL transparency might not be realistic in today’s marketplace, but MORE transparency is.

EXISTING PRACTICES

Over 10 years ago, the PTI Produce Traceability Initiative was created. This initiative was created by the produce industry and for the produce industry. Among many other things, it addresses the most basic fundamental concept of traceability: data capture. Without the ability to capture the data, you cannot share it.

This is the topic that is most over-looked by the industry with the current application of using blockchain for traceability (more on this later). Blockchain is a data carrier, which means that you have to figure out how to capture the data and once captured, THEN insert it into a blockchain. Well, the data capture process does not happen auto-magically. This is why the PTI works. The PTI uses existing technology (i.e. barcodes) with existing industry standards (i.e. GS1) and existing industry practices.

Food Transparency: What’s Possible for 2021 and BeyondBecause of the applicability and relevance of the PTI, the industry already has the tools to make whole chain traceability possible. It’s just a matter of willingness, making the choice to participate. It’s important to mention, that currently about 60% of companies in the industry participate in the PTI.

Therefore, we can understand how the supply chain path is broken if 100% participation is not happening. A lot of investment has already been made in the PTI and if scanning isn’t used by everyone, traceability is lost.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

So now let’s talk more about blockchain. Although the hype has died and the cracks are beginning to show for an unrealistic and unvetted use for blockchain, there are still a lot of assertions being made about blockchain in the food industry that seem attractive to the uninformed reader.

It’s important to remember, blockchain is a data carrier. It assumes companies already have a way to capture the data that is to be inserted into a blockchain. This is not a small assumption. Without the PTI, for example, companies cannot capture the data being asked of the blockchain application for food traceability. In addition, companies must have the willingness to include the data that is being asked from this blockchain. These are not small problems, they are show-stoppers.

COST, SCALABILITY AND APPLICABILITY

food transparency: what's possible for 2021 and beyondQuestions around cost, scalability and applicability are vital and need to be answered before the industry embarks on another new technology. Industry problems will not be solved if companies do not look at these 3 aspects carefully. Additional transparency can happen in the supply chain NOW, but companies still have a way to go before FULL transparency is achieved.

The integrated supply chain will not happen in the next century if the entire supply chain does not receive value. In addition, if the technology creates an additional burden to the industry, or does not provide an ROI, it will not be adopted.

Food Transparency: What's Possible for 2021and Beyond

A LOOK AHEAD

The good news is that the produce industry has postured itself as being willing to change, provided it brings value for everyone in the supply chain. This is good news, as it illustrates the concern to create due diligence and use-case scenarios that justify the investment.

There are many proactive companies in the food industry that embrace transparency and technology, knowing that by doing so it will usher them into a new era of efficiency and productivity. Dapicon will continue to partner with these progressive companies and become the main conduit to creating more efficiencies and solving industry problems when it comes to food transparency into 2021 and beyond.

food transparency: what's possible for 2021 and beyond

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