Serialisation – the future of food industry traceability?
The US has already adopted serialisation regulation in the pharmaceutical market through
the Drug Supply Chain Security Act – the FDA acting to introduce carton and case
serialisation to combat illegal and counterfeit prescription drugs and improve drug safety. In
the food sector, where the supply chain is also highly complex and global and products are
sourced from across the world, the same reasoning is also valid.
Authentication, track and trace, supply chain logistics and comprehensive product safety in
the food industry are critical to protect consumers, operational efficiency and brand
reputation. Many food industry players believe serialisation requirements may form part of
the next batch of food safety rules.
Put the customer first for safety and peace of mind
Food manufacturers and suppliers that can show more granular track and trace capability
down to the individual box level across their operations – whether this is at the inbound,
production or outbound stage – will bring peace of mind to prospective and existing
customers. If they can achieve this before being compelled to do so by any future
legislation, this will have an even greater benefit to brand reputation.
Advanced technologies such as blockchain are also driving innovation for food manufacturer
and supplier engagement. Serialising food packages and QR code labelling can feed
information to a blockchain that provides transparent supply chain information direct to the
Align with consumer ethics
Consumers are increasingly looking beyond just food safety information when making
purchasing decisions, now opting to align their purchases with their individual values and
Food organisations that collaborate with restaurants and stores to use advanced technology
such as blockchain could harness their internal track and trace data to feed dedicated apps,
providing consumers with information on ethical sourcing, product source, food standards
compliance, or even granular information such as the sweetness of a particular package of
oranges. Product serialisation is vital for the successful integration of these exciting
Lot tracing and serialisation – get the best of both worlds
Serialised box tracking and lot tracking is not an "either-or" proposition – there are
significant operational advantages to using both processes.
All growers and producers face a choice on how to define what constitutes a lot, whether it
is based on a time range, specific production line or the field from which produce was
harvested. Whatever rule is established is likely to disregard other factors that may affect
the quality and characteristics of the product. In cheese block production for example, even
if food safety is not an issue, the quality characteristics at the start, middle and end of a run
can vary, so having a serial number and timestamp on each box provides valuable
information that could be stored on a serialised box record.
Beyond this, if a contaminant or substandard raw material was introduced into the process
at a certain time, then having a usable serial number with a timestamp can reduce the scope
of a recall of non-conforming products – even within the same lot and after sale or
distribution to downstream customers.
Back-end benefits – serialisation in the warehouse
Box serialisation also offers significant benefits for warehouse processes. Having barcoded,
serialised box records with catch weight information for random weight products achieves
much improved inventory accuracy and is especially important for products that are bought
or sold by weight.
Even for fixed weight items, having serial numbers coded onto the boxes – using Box IDs or
GS1-128 barcodes that include the serial number segment – allows the ERP or warehouse
system to check for duplicate scans during picking and movement of products between
pallets. In general, the ability to track the movement of serialised boxes from serialised
pallets in the warehouse out to customers provides a superior audit trail that is vital for
researching and tackling day-to-day warehouse issues.
Food manufacturers: waste not, want not!
Food waste continues to be an issue for the industry and society as a whole, with the UN
estimating that a third of all food produced annually goes to waste. Although efforts are
being made to reduce food waste at point of consumption, this also highlights the
importance of greater traceability throughout the industry’s product and supply chains.
With close tracking and management of co-product, by-products and other potential waste,
food manufacturers have the opportunity to secure a slice of the $47 billion upcycled food
waste market, which is set to rise by another 5% in the next decade. This will allow food
manufacturers and processors to consistently convert food waste from a loss to a profit.
Opening additional revenue streams
Cutting down on food waste also unlocks the opportunity for food manufacturers to identify
and open additional revenue streams. By implementing technology to track and manage
valuable co- and by-products of food production, manufacturers can plan, schedule and
record the consumption and output of these processes.
Using the latest industry-specific technology, users can create co- and by-product formulas
based on any batch size and automatically resize the formula for batches based on demand
This granular management allows manufacturers to define diverging Bill of Materials where
one item goes into a product and additional items result in co- or by-products. Giving a food
company the technology to track, monitor, reuse and sell co- and by-products of the
manufacturing process helps avoid significant unnecessary waste in the process. With
greater traceability and management, food manufacturers and suppliers can both work to
reduce food waste and actively demonstrate this to customers.
Time to get serious about serialisation
Advances in box tracking and serialisation technology have today made it feasible to achieve
the benefits with little financial impact. Food organisations should consider that introducing
serialisation capabilities in their ERP and other management systems will provide advance
preparation against fast-moving regulatory and technology changes, operational
efficiencies, and a tangible way to gain a competitive advantage in the market.
Simon Noakes is SMB Director at Columbus UK. Experienced Manufacturing and Supply
Chain professional with a background in industry covering a number of ERP and systems
implementations from a client perspective. Now using his previous knowledge to oversee
business consultancy and Microsoft Dynamics implementations across ERP/CRM and the
wider stack to support businesses deliver real benefits and digitally transform themselves
using proven project methodology.