Food Tracking Method Illuminates Entire Supply Chain
CREDIT: Trace Register
Merchants have traditionally relied on relationships with suppliers to ensure the quality of goods ranging from cocoa beans to silk. But food tracking startup Trace Register seals handshakes with comprehensive data for the first time in history, allowing retailers to peer themselves down the shipment route, warehouses and processing plants of a product's globe-trotting past.
Currently anyone from food poisoning investigators to discerning restaurant patrons relies on a system held together by manual verification and trust. The new technique tracks the source of food quality issues for say, salmon in minutes at the press of a button, beating the Food and Drug Administrations' detective work and even radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in speed and accuracy.
"RFID is basically 'I'm holding this can and I'm passing this can along to you.' What we do is looking way past the physical movement of the fish,” said Robert Burmeister, a customer service agent at the Seattle-based company.
The Trace Register system shows “everything from management of the catch, type of fish, scientific name, water conditions, lab source results. So when you get the final results you're taking hundreds of pieces of data for each piece of fish."
Currently a fisherman, a cold storage facility, a processor, a distributer, an end retailer, or end service company do know the aspects of traceability: "where they got the products from, what they're doing to it, and where they're sending it," said Trace Register Vice President Andy Furner. But unless there is a food quality problem, steps of the supply chain do not have the means or incentive to share this content for every single shipment.
"You’ve basically got all this information stranded in these islands on the way," Furner said.
That manual system for traceability means that an outbreak of food poisoning takes weeks, if not months to address. FDA officials wait for cases to build up at the state level, send investigators to study what food sick people ate in common, visit the restaurants or retailers they patronized, and only then question suppliers and begin to work their way back into the supply chain, said Furner.
As if global trade doesn't make that daunting enough: 80 percent of seafood is imported, coming from places like Asia, France, and Europe.
QR codes and any other label attached to a fish or casement let managers scan shipments to the system and type in customizable information as they complete their own inventories, creating layers of data in a product profile that shares information easily.
Ironically, a system that bolsters globalized food could also benefit local producers.
"I think it will really help local fisherman who wants to get their product out. Right now it is basically based on trust, and that's what makes a lot of people nervous," Furner said.
Retailers such as Whole Foods, Wegman's, Del Hayes America, Price Shopper already use the system, as do smaller entities. Increasingly, codes on restaurant menus and products will allow shoppers and diners to view a map and story of their Yukon River salmon's journey directly from their smartphone.