Tracebility drives cash benefits for growers
Slashing quality claims and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars are among the benefits of developing product traceability initiatives (PTI), according to PMA supply chain efficiencies vice president Ed Treacy.
Treacy told PMA Fresh Connections Chile delegates that growers, packers and shippers in the U.S. had voluntarily created PTI in 2007, a year after the e-coli spinach crisis.
The outbreak claimed five lives and led to a nationwide recall of the vegetable because the source could not be traced.
"The consumption level of spinach in 2006, when the press said stop eating, it went almost to zero. It has taken five years to get back to the level it was at in 2006, in five years the population of the U.S. should probably be up by 10-12%."
In fact, Treacy said the industry was still suffering from the result of one recall involving one company which was why the industry had developed whole chain traceability (WCT) using technology and common standards.
"Everybody had very good traceability systems except it doesn't transfer to the next partner in the supply system. You have a system, they have a system but they don't talk and it was very difficult to track a particular lot of product through the supply chain all the way through to the distributors and retailers."
Treacy said WCT links each company's own internal traceability into a comprehensive traceability system.
"We developed standardized tools which makes it easier for everyone," he said.
A key element was systemizing PTI labels to include a range of useful data, such as the lot number included in the bar code, a four digit voice pick order code for retailers and distributors and country of origin details.
Treacy gave a number of examples where companies had realized significant cost benefits such as the company which had a recall on its cilantro but was able to limit it to just 12% of produce they had sent out.
A strawberry field picking company gave employees a bar code badge which was scanned and transferred to box labels so they could track who had picked what case. This improved productivity, reduced quality claims from 5% to less than 1% and the company was able to employ one less payroll clerk.
Another company used the technology to give real time information about field packing and which trucks had been on the road longest to get to storage so that these could be unloaded first.
A company operating in both the U.S. and Mexico was able to save US$200,000 a year on its printing costs of boxes by including country of origin on the label.
Treacy said that the Mexican agriculture industry had persuaded their government to give them financial aid to implement PTI to give them a competitive edge over rival U.S. growers.
"If your customers have not been asking you for traceability yet, they will be. If you want to continue shipping to the U.S. think about it now start looking at your operations, start figuring out the best way to do this and see if there is some way to give you benefit in your operation."