The national and international food quality and sanitation requirements of consumers, traders and individual authorities are increasing daily. Outbreaks of animal disease that could be transmitted to humans, or the presence of chemicals above acceptable limits in feed and food, can threaten both the quality and safety of products.
Today, traceability measures are used to address food safety and quality control issues, which help to reduce the production and distribution of unsafe or poor quality products. In turn, the potential for bad publicity, liability and product recalls is reduced.
The better and more precise the tracing system, the faster a producer can identify and resolve food safety or quality problems. Only a process-compliant and complete production tracing system can protect business operators from larger recalls and higher financial loss.
With many countries adopting strict food safety laws, production tracing is a must in all areas of the food industry.
The European Union (E.U.) directive 178/2002 has been in force since Feb. 21, 2002. It prescribes the implementation of product traceability for all food processing companies in the E.U. member countries. The traceability obligation applies to farmers, importers, haulage contractors and food processors, plus food wholesalers and retailers.
For all actors involved in the production and value-adding chain, the E.U. directive 178/2002 entails certain requirements. From sowing to harvest, every processing stage must be documented.
The fine-tuning of processes requires complete transparency of the production process and of the individual operations as well as of the process and quality values of current and past production units.
The longer a production chain is and the more complex its operation, the greater the requirements for smooth job and production handling. In order to allow fast responses to irregularities, all the process steps along the entire value-adding chain must be clearly documented and completely identified.
The basic requirement for achieving this is optimal data preparation and processing. Vertical integration of a plant’s equipment in the process automation system ensures complete and transparent data recording. Traceability incorporates very close with the installed mechanical equipment such as scales for weighing the product inputs and outputs of a process. As an integral component of the production system, it minimizes the data interfaces and thus reduces sources of expensive errors.
Traceability technology is available for the food and grain processing industry, including the WinCoS.Traceability module produced by Buhler AG, Uzwil, Switzerland. According to the company, the module ensures complete recording of the production process. The module records all the production steps and each process operation during the ongoing process and saves the data to a centralized database. Its numerous details with filter and search options allow extensive process chains to be visualized in a user-friendly way.
The module works from the end product back to the raw material received from the supplier and back again. This means that starting at a given end product it is immediately possible to identify the raw materials and their suppliers. The module also shows which raw materials have been incorporated in which end products. This allows a detailed analysis at the click of a mouse, clearly reveals any existing irregularities, and thus enables immediate targeted intervention.
The additional integration of identification systems such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or barcode optimally supplement the product tracing chain. For example, it is possible to manage additional data such as quality values or the origin of the raw materials of finished products. Transparent data maintenance enables interlinking of the producer’s data with those of the supplier or even of the customer.
Buhler noted that the module satisfies the applicable international food safety regulations in terms of traceability and helps companies avoid financial losses and commercial damage.
WinCoS.r2 is the successor to the WinCoS process automation system, which has been applied around the world several hundred times since 2000. Buhler said the scalable and modular WinCoS.r2 automation system maximizes the plant uptime and increases the product safety and production reliability. Its special functions support production planning, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are available at all times and in all places.
Thomas Widmer is sales automation manager for Uzwil, Switzerland-based Buhler AG. He can be reached at