Conference Board report focuses on traceability

11/5/2012

Deciding whether or not a food is safe to eat may take a leap of faith on the part of grocery shoppers.

How do we know that the leafy spinach, plump chicken breasts or frozen pizza we buy for dinner aren’t rife with bacteria or laced with contaminants? What makes us trust that processed foods lining the supermarket shelves are made with safe ingredients? And if there is a problem how do we know the issue will identified and handled quickly and effectively?

Recent food product recalls in Canada and around the world emphasize whey we need a robust system of traceability to inspire trust in consumers and to protect the safety and quality of our food supply.

A new report from the Conference Board of Canada analyzes food traceability system issues and identifies potential ways to improve traceability performance in Canada. Entitled, “Forging Stronger Links: Traceability and the Canadian Food Supply Chain,” the report highlights actions that governments, industry and others could take to strengthen traceability’s role in the food supply chain and examines the costs and benefits of traceability for the different participants in the food supply system.

As the report asserts, each firm in the food supply chain needs to be able to accurately trace its products or ingredients one step forward and one step back in the supply chain.

Many food industry firms in Canada already comply with the principle of the one-step-forward and one-step-back approach to traceability.

Although companies may like to be able to trace a product or ingredient throughout the entire supply chain, such a process is extremely complex and prohibitively expensive.

The Conference Board researchers note that evaluations of this kind of system found little or no benefit to food safety, making it no better than the one-step approach.

In a video commentary posted on YouTube, Jessica Edge, senior research associate and co-author of the report, explains that a successful food traceability system is relatively easy to implement, should be relatively affordable and should be relatively easy for everyone in the supply chain to use. “It’s effective at recalling products and it values the confidentiality of people’s information,” she says. “The key point with a successful traceability system is that what that looks like will vary depending on where you are in the supply chain.”

The report is available as a PDF for download. This is one of 20 reports being prepared by the Conference Board’s Centre for Food in Canada.

The principal goal of the Centre is to engage stakeholders from business, government, academia, associations, and communities in creating a Canadian Food Strategy that will meet the country’s need for a coordinated, long-term strategy on healthy and safe food, consumer security, industry viability and sustainability.

Watch the video featuring Jessica Edge, Conference Board of Canada's senior research associate and co-author of the report.

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