The importance of food traceability for F&B SMBs — and how to never miss a beat

18 Apr 2023

Alongside sustainability and ethical practices, food traceability has become an important factor in the food and drink sector. This is especially true in the UK, where specific legal requirements exist. 

Supermarkets in the UK take great pride in being able to trace their produce “from farm to fork”. It’s also one of the key concerns for customers who are increasingly looking for local produce.

Is your food and drink business doing everything it can for food traceability?

What is food traceability?

Food traceability is a system created to help keep track of food in the supply chain. The more information recorded, the easier and quicker it can be to identify food that’s affected by safety recalls. 

Food that needs to be traced includes, but is not limited, to:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, etc)
  • Meat
  • Seafood.

The two main aspects of food traceability

There are two main tasks involved in food traceability: tracking and tracing. 

  • Tracking refers to the ability to locate an individual product unit (or batch) at any point in the production process. 
  • Tracing refers to the records kept during the product’s time in the supply and production chain. You should be able to trace produce from the supermarket right back to the farm that grew the raw ingredients. As such, tracing records should include sourcing, manufacturing, packing and shipping to ensure complete transparency. 

Why food traceability is essential for food and drink SMBs

The food supply chain has become more complex than we could have imagined, expanding on a global scale. With such a wide range of sources and destinations for produce, traceability has become a major concern for customers, businesses and governments alike. 

Businesses need to have a system in place that helps them to pinpoint any problem items, in the event that something does go wrong. 

Food traceability is a legal obligation

For those in the UK and EU, food traceability is a legal requirement as set out by Regulation (EC) 178/2002. Despite Brexit, these guidelines are synchronised across the UK and Europe to help maintain high standards of traceability. 

The regulation’s main requirements include are as follows:

  • Food (and feed) must not be unsafe, i.e. it must not be injurious to health or unfit for human consumption.
  • Labelling, advertising and presentation of food must not mislead consumers.
  • Food businesses must be able to identify the businesses from whom they’ve obtained food, ingredients or food-producing animals — and the businesses they have supplied with products — and provide this information on demand.
  • Unsafe food must be withdrawn from sale or recalled from consumers if it has already been sold.


Article 18 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 covers the requirements for traceability. Under this article, food businesses are required to:

  • Identify their suppliers of food, food-producing animals and other substances intended or expected to be incorporated into food
  • Identify the businesses to which they have supplied products
  • Produce this information to the competent authorities on demand.

Traceability is essential for public health

In the worst-case scenario, a lack of traceability can unknowingly allow contaminated produce to be sold to the public. This can lead to major public health events if not handled correctly. 

Potential illnesses caused by contaminated produce can include: 

  • E. Coli
  • Listeria
  • Salmonella
  • Botulism

These illnesses can become extremely severe and may result in death. As such, it’s essential that any item that could potentially transmit these illnesses is pulled from the supply chain as fast as possible.

Traceability allows the root cause of a food-borne illness or contamination to be discovered easier and faster. This reduces the amount of time the product is on the shelf and available to the public, and in some cases can even catch a potential problem item before it hits the shelves. 

Track high-risk foods

High-risk foods are any foodstuffs that have an increased potential of spoiling during the supply chain. This applies to food that has ideal conditions for bacterial growth, that is more likely to harbour dangerous bacteria and other disease-causing pathogens such as viruses or parasites. 

High-risk foods include products such as:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish and seafood

Keeping track of these items throughout the supply chain can help identify any abnormalities in the shipping process and potentially identify where the problem originated. 

For example, if a chicken product was found to be contaminated during the manufacturing stage, you could trace the issue to the manufacturing plant and issue cautionary recalls for any items coming out of that plant. 

Traceability keeps the supply chain visible

Traceability doesn’t just help businesses. Customers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and are often more inclined to purchase a product if they can see it was made locally. 

Traceability empowers customers to make better, more conscious decisions about what they buy.

Traceability helps promote a sustainable supply chain

Sustainability plays a huge part in some customers’ purchasing decisions. Knowing that they can get their food from a sustainable source makes them feel better about themselves and their choices. 

Businesses that offer traceability and transparency create customer loyalty with this (growing) demographic. They know and can trust that your brand will offer sustainable, traceable products — as ethical as they are tasty!

Must-haves for a food traceability system

For a business to stay in line with food traceability requirements, they need a platform that can offer end-to-end traceability with ease. An inventory management solution, like Workhorse, can help.

Before we wrap up this article, let’s look at the must-have features of a food traceability system. 

Batch tracking

Tracking batches of product is an essential part of any business that makes money by moving products. Batch numbers are used to indicate when a product was manufactured or, in the case of fresh produce, when it was packaged. 

These numbers are a way of identifying when a product was made and where it has come from. Keeping track of batch numbers can help businesses quickly identify and pull products that need to be recalled. 

Expiration date tracking

When working with fresh produce, time is of the essence. Many fresh products are high-risk foods and the longer they are in transport, the less suitable it is for a customer looking to purchase. 

Keeping track of expiration dates throughout the supply chain is crucial to ensure that businesses aren’t putting expired goods on their shelves, or purchasing already expired goods from their distributors. 

Tracking your best before dates 

Best before dates — sometimes referred to as “eat by” or “use by” — are a recommendation for food consumption. While many believe these dates are interchangeable with expiry dates, best before dates are used as a guideline to indicate freshness. 

Products used after this date may not offer the same level of quality as they would have before the best before date. This is important for those purchasing the product to sell on, as customers are unlikely to buy produce that has missed its peak quality level.   

Product recall processes

Product recalls in the food and drink industry are often due to the potential of serious risk to whoever consumes the product. A traceability system should be able to quickly and clearly flag products and batches that need to be recalled.

Ideally, this will be an automated alert that quickly explains the reason for the recall, affected batch numbers and any special information relating to the products e.g. disposal. 

A great food and drink inventory management system will help with these workflows and more. For more information on how Workhorse can help with food traceability, contact us today.

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