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At the heart of today’s food safety and supply chain challenges is a lack of visibility. Because of paper-based record-keeping and fragmented data systems, achieving real-time supply chain visibility has been difficult. When data is not digitized and accurate, it cannot be easily exchanged among trading partners, creating inefficient supply chains. With continued supply chain shortages, disruptions, and other logistics hurdles, food safety evolution has never been more crucial. Massive shifts in consumer behavior coupled with disjointed and manual food traceability processes means the food industry needs to take action to digitize the supply chain and adopt technology to create a safer and more traceable food system.

This transformation initiative has been core to The U.S. FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which advocates for industry collaboration to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system. Later this year, the FDA is expected to announce mandatory traceability requirements for producers of high-risk foods (dairy, seafood etc.) under FSMA Rule 204. Previously, FSMA only required “one up/one down” visibility of the product’s movement through the supply chain. Now, supply chain partners will have to keep more detailed records for two years and focus on digitizing data to drive even greater transparency. Industry will be expected to comply, meaning that in the event of a recall, data transfer will be required within 24 hours. GS1 US has been working with industry to help them address these requirements through the adoption and use of GS1 Standards.

Standards Support Traceability

GS1 Standards such as Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) and Global Location Numbers (GLNs) for identification of products and locations, respectively, are critical to this implementation, as they enable traceability of products as they move through the supply chain. Many food industry stakeholders have already prioritized the use of these GS1 Standards to enable traceability programs and help prevent costly food recalls, dating back to the spinach recall of 2006. However, EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Services), a standard that provides event and transactional data about a product’s journey is growing in importance for its ability to not only provide the status of the item (e.g., in transit, temperature etc.) but also because it supports the FDA’s vision for sharing event data like growing, receiving, transforming, creating, and shipping food products, electronically. Combined, these three GS1 Standards give the industry a foundation for identifying, capturing, and sharing information about products and support industry’s focus on recording critical tracking events (CTEs) and key data elements (KDEs) to address FMSA requirements.

Standards are also foundational for sharing trusted data using emerging technologies like blockchain to support end-to-end traceability, make product recalls more efficient, and authenticate transparency claims. GS1 Standards bring structure to the data being collected and make interoperability between systems possible, so the data is meaningful to all trading partners.

Traceability Efforts Evolve with the Consumer

Beyond meeting more immediate FSMA food safety requirements, traceability efforts are poised to evolve, especially with the consumer in the driver’s seat. With the curious and conscious consumer’s growing appetite for information and engagement in today’s digital world, industry will need to continue to meet their growing demands.

GS1 US is at the forefront and is leading an effort to usher in the next generation of data carriers (e.g., two-dimensional barcodes), dubbed ‘Sunrise 2027,’ to provide consumers with more in-depth information, such as fair-trade declaration, sustainable sourcing, etc. Digital access to dynamic, current information is imperative – 2D barcodes are the gateway to delivering the next level of information, as the traditional one-dimensional U.P.C. simply can’t offer that robust information that buyers seek. In-store, retailers can reap benefits including improved inventory management, recall readiness, sustainability, product authentication, and brand trust. That single 2D barcode carries limitless information that can be updated in real-time, all in a machine-readable format.

Rethinking the Future of Food Safety

At this year’s GFSI Conference, I hope that you will join me along with global industry leaders in food as we discuss the imperatives to modernize and guide the next era of food safety and meet the demands of consumers. Hear how the implementation of GS1 Standards has laid the foundation for unparalleled supply chain visibility, sustainability, and safety in the food sector and how industry will transition to 2D barcodes in the years ahead.

Join us on 30 March from 3:45-4:30pm CET (Central European Time) for this special session.

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