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Food Traceability Series: Processed Foods

Part 6 in our blog series on Food Traceability is from Tejas Bhatt, one of our guest speakers at our Food Traceability Summit that is taking place right here in Brighton, Michigan on August 19th. The original source is from “A Guidance Document on The Best Practices in Food Traceability, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, Vol. 13, pp. 1074-1103 by Jianrong Zhang and Tejas Bhatt”. We are breaking down the document into different blogs leading up to the event. This section talks about the processed food chain. If you missed part five on the meat supply chain, you can find the link here.

Supply chain

Processed foods have increasing challenges in the traceability arena these days. The global trade of foods and ingredients has become a diverse and complex operation (See Figure 8). Consumers continue to look for innovation in food products along with good nutritional value and ethical ingredients, as well as continuing to desire traditional products. To satisfy customer demand and maintain market share, processed food manufacturers seek competitively priced ingredients from developing countries; and, global trade allows sourcing of ingredients from all over the world.

However, due to the diversity of agricultural operations and practices, quality assurance systems, and country regulations, the processed food sector faces challenges in identifying domestic and international ingredient sources, ensuring the safety of those ingredients and foods, and tracing products when addressing foodborne illness situations (for example, investigation, recall) or managing their supply chains.

The vast harvest-to-table food system includes agricultural production and harvesting, aquaculture, wild seafood harvesting, holding and storing of raw materials, food manufacturing (formulation, food processing, and packaging), transportation and distribution, retailing, food service, and food preparation in the home (Floros and others 2010). A processed food product might consist of an agricultural commodity (for example, coffee, corn, grain, oil, rice, sugar, tea, or wheat), fresh produce (vegetable or fruit), protein (for example, meat, dairy, or seafood), seasonings (spices, for example), food colors, vitamins/minerals, processing aids, or other components (Floros and others 2010). In addition, a processed food product may include ingredients from countries thousands of miles away.

The supply chain of the processed food sector starts with the raw materials. The raw materials may include silo materials, raw ingredients, processing aids, and packaging materials. Silo materials may include raw agricultural products such as wheat, rice, and other grain products. Raw ingredients may include coloring’s, emulsifiers, salt, spices, sugar, vitamins, and other ingredients, which may be sourced in bags, boxes, or totes. Processing aids and packaging materials may be shipped as pallets, boxes, or totes. After inspection for quality assurance and other record keeping processes, are stored in a warehouse, and follow the FIFO or FEFO for production.

When manufacturing begins, the prep room/kitchen orders the material as specified for certain recipes and formulations, and the raw materials are transferred in designated amounts to the manufacturing floor. After processing, which may include premixing, emulsifying, heat treatment, or cooling, the product is packaged using specified packaging and shipped to internal or offsite storage. Distribution channels for processed foods may include transportation to a warehouse, retailer, or food service site, school, restaurant, vending machine, or other business operation.

Stakeholders in a processed food supply chain.
Figure 8. Stakeholders in a processed food supply chain.


Specialized CTE-KDE framework

Although it may appear simple, the supply chain for processed foods is much more complex than described above (shown in Figure 8). Thus, KDEs at CTEs are essential to ensure traceability internally and externally.

Most processed food manufacturers, particularly contract manufacturers, do not have single-formula products. A medium-sized company may have several dozen formulas/recipes that are tailored to different customer needs or preferences; this is especially likely for a processor that produces private-label goods. In addition, it is not uncommon for food manufacturers to use different co-manufacturers for different product lines, which adds further to the complexity in a food traceability system.

Ordering of material. For this CTE, quantity, name, or other identifier of the product, and expected receipt date are identified as KDE.

Receipt. For this CTE, the received materials need to be verified against the purchase record/BOL. KDEs are identified as below:

  • Raw Materials (includes silo materials, processing aids, and all packaging materials)
  • Method of Receiving, including verification against purchase orders and bills of lading (silo, boxes, pallets, totes, for example)
  • Event Owner (warehouse, receiving, operations, brokers)
  • Systems of physical identification (date codes, stamps, labels, inkjet coders, RFID systems, electronic coding systems)
  • Lot/Batch code identification
  • Batch code of materials received/supplier lot code system (lot size is critical and varies greatly from supplier to supplier. It is important to understand how the sup-plier tracks their ingredients (lots) that go into their products)
  • Internal lot code system (that is, batch code of intermediate materials assigned internally for production tracking)
  • Customer lot code system or batch code of finished goods (assigned to consumer units)




Storage CTEs should record the following KDEs:

  • Records: Physical stock reconciliation against stock records
  • Item Identification, Quantity, Location, and Status (such as transfer status [in transit, still at the vendor, and others] or production status) (unrestricted/available to ship, in test, quality hold, restricted/not available to ship)
  • Compliance of Inventory Control System:
  • FIFO or
  • FEFO systems or
  • LIFO (last in first out)
  • or hybrid system
  • Ingredient Hold System
  • The process and reconciliation for ingredients
  • Supplies put on hold
  • Management of test compared with production run ingredients
  • Status of soft hold, where product can move internally
  • Status of hard holds, in which nothing should move
  • Manual compared with electronic WMS.

(i) Connection of internal identification and supplier codes and lots


  • Event owner (kitchen prep room, ordering of materials against specification and orders)
  • Amount of raw materials routed to production
  • Lot/Batch Code identification
  • Assignment of new code recorded against the receiving code to ensure traceability
  • Records systems (to track codes, amounts, usage, time of production, production line of the ingredient usage, and others)
  • Reconciliation of material used compared with recipe: Verify that correct amount of material was used and code date/lot properly recorded on batch sheets
  • Main record system compared with co-manufacturers’ systems
  • Partial ingredients or packaging material record returning to inventory after production
  • Intermediate materials (work in progress [WIP]), at Pre-mix/Preweigh
  • Intermediate materials, batch at production
  • Record to keep partial batches (use of different batch/lots in different production dates)
  • Rework
  • Raw material or component recirculation information, such as the location and the usage
  • Record for Held WIP, how managed and tracked


Packaging. Packaging material has become a critical raw material over the years. Since packaging materials typically are produced in large lots, it is very essential that the manufacturers keep detailed KDE information at this event.

There are 3 CTEs for which KDEs need to be collected:

  • Intermediate materials batch, after packaging, into primary unprinted container
  • Intermediate materials batch, at secondary packaging
  • Intermediate materials batch, after secondary packaging

The KDEs that need to be collected are:

  • Raw Packaging Material Supplier Information
  • Lot Code
  • Location (manufacturing site and processing line)
  • Packaging material, quantity/usage
  • Product Code
  • Product Name
  • Product Batch/Lot Number


It is important that the quantity, lot number, and supplier information be recorded for any unused packaging materials, for their future usage. If the products are repacked into different configurations, and new Universal Product Codes (UPCs) and batch code are assigned, the linking information must be recorded so that the new UPCs can trace back to the original product information.

Shipping. The finished products are dispatched to internal or offsite storage locations.

  • Lot/Batch Code identification
  • Assign new code with production date, lot code, line ID, time of production, expiration or use-by date, and establishment number, for USDA-regulated products
  • Tracking of pallet codes with code date on product
  • Reconciliation of all pallet units
  • Serial Shipping Container Code


Outside warehouse.

  • Reconciliation of all pallet units
  • Multiple deliveries based on orders
  • Serial Shipping Container Code
  • Number of Traded Units, per dispatch unit


(a) Lot/Batch Code identification

Other KDEs to consideration.

  • Event Owners
  • Record information
  • Store records
  • Access records
  • Records
  • Date/Time coding
  • Lines
  • Quantities
  • Usage
  • Records development
  • Records control
  • Records types
  • Records corrections
  • Recorded storage and access
  • Records discrepancies (ordered compared with amount received, display shipper complexities) and management of damaged, out of date, destroyed, or returned product; the source to obtain warehouse damage and unsaleable information
  • Raw Materials
  • Raw materials generic names
  • Vendor/Supplier name
  • Vendor/Supplier batch/lot code system
  • Quantities ordered, received, stored, used, returned, damaged, or lost
  • Delivery date
  • Supplier internal ID numbers
  • Certificate of Analysis (COA) data


(a) Intermediate Materials, additional information

  • Start time of mixing, usage
  • Quantity mixed
  • End of time of mixing
  • Lost, damaged
  • Returned, unused materials to warehouse


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