Food Processing and Traceability

Traceability systems are an important way of minimizing risk and dealing with any problems quickly and efficiently. They track the path of a product or ingredient from the initial supplier through all processing and distribution stages, right to the end consumer.

This page explains the advantages of traceability, the characteristics and types of traceability systems, CFIA requirements, how to verify traceability systems and traceability requirements around the world.

On other pages you can learn about traceability service providers, how RFID technology is used for traceability in the food processing industry and preparing for a food recall

Advantages of traceability

A traceability system allows the food industry to:

  • Promptly locate and remove unsafe products from the marketplace
  • Protect brand reputation - keeping precise records allows companies to quickly identify and recall only unsafe products, reducing the scope of a recall, demonstrating good corporate citizenship and a high level of concern for public health, therefore limiting negative media exposure and perhaps even turning it positive
  • Minimize the size of a recall and reduce the cost incurred in recovering or disposing of products in the marketplace
  • Diagnose problems in production and determine liability where relevant

Characteristics of a traceability system

Basic characteristics of a traceability system include:

  • Identification of units/batches of all ingredients and products. Basic to all supply chain technology is to identify the objects that move, like pallets, packages and units of product. The simplest type of identification is a label with a written name or number. Machine readable labels are widely used by the industry so products can be automatically scanned, identified and recorded.
  • Information on each ingredient, including the date (code) and the supplier.
  • Linkages to all data collected as part of a system. Once a unit or batch is labeled, the information recorded for it must provide links to the history of the product and the origins of its ingredients. In a simple system, the information relates to the path a product followed through the chain of manufacture, distribution and retail.

Types of traceability systems

Traceability systems can be manual or computer based. Small companies manufacturing limited numbers of products with simple formulas, short shelf-lives and fewer customers may find paper-based, manual systems adequate. Large companies may find computerized systems more reliable and efficient.

Computerized systems can help:

  • speed data and product handling
  • reduce errors
  • reduce paper waste
  • track product movements precisely

The traceability process: an example

Several steps can be followed to establish a tracing system:

  • Receipt of raw materials, ingredients or packaging materials - record information in a logbook, check product specifications and assign a lot number.
  • Use of raw materials, ingredients and packaging material for production - when products are used in processing, link them to the manufacturing process by logging information such as units used, recipes, work order numbers, dates and times.
  • Packaging finished product - include a code that allows products to be grouped and links to the information recorded by the tracing system.
  • Shipping finished products to clients or customers - products are grouped on pallets or in boxes and given separate identification codes for use in dispatch and subsequent handling in the supply chain.

Buying food products means placing trust in the producers and processors. One way producers earn that trust is by being able to trace every ingredient they use. Traceability systems rely on recording information accurately. Employees play a major role in ensuring food is traceable and those who do not follow established food traceability policies place the integrity of all food processors at risk. Training employees is essential to increase awareness, understanding and competence in food preparation and traceability.

CFIA requirements

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires food operators to document the names and addresses of their suppliers and customers, as well as the nature of the product and date of delivery. Operators are also encouraged to keep information on the volume or quantity of a product, the batch number and more detailed descriptions of the product, such as whether it is raw or processed. In the event of a recall, producers must be able to provide this information to the CFIA. Their office of food safety and recall can be contacted in Manitoba at 204-797-4501.

Verifying traceability systems

It is a good idea to verify that a traceability system works well before it is needed. Being able to identify recalled products quickly helps control the scope of the recall and helps with removing the products from distribution quickly and accurately. To do this, you must be able to trace your raw ingredients, packaging materials and finished products.

If you cannot identify a specific ingredient, you may have to recall more product than is necessary. Incorrect identification of a product during a first recall is likely to lead to subsequent recalls.

Traceability systems need to be checked to determine if they meet the following objectives:

  • Provide traceability forwards and backwards
  • Include all raw materials, ingredients and packaging materials
  • Give a response in an appropriate time
  • Provide simple and readable traceability information to the consumer
  • In some cases, provide information back to the farm level

The CFIA has developed a CFIA has developed a recall procedure guide to help in the event of a food recall. You can use the guide to help perform a mock recall to identify and correct problems with your recall plans.

Traceability requirements around the world

A heightened modern day threat of international terrorism includes the real possibility of intentional food supply contamination. Governments and the food processing industry need to be on guard. Observing voluntary and mandatory practices in food safety and traceability will help prevent incidents. Good organization and reliable documentation will also help identify and contain contamination rapidly, should an incident take place.

Importers to the U.S. are required to maintain records that identify the immediate sources of their foods. Processors are required to create these records at the time of processing. They must maintain these records for at least two years and make them available to the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) within four hours, if requested. The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack or import food for human consumption in the United States to register with the USFDA. For more information visit Bioterrorism and Drug Preparedness.

Can-Trace is a voluntary, industry-led, collaborative and open initiative committed to developing traceability standards for all food products sold in Canada. It seeks to define and develop minimum requirements for national whole-chain tracking and tracing standards. More information on Can-Trace webpage.

Other regulations or standards that include traceability requirements when importing food products include:

  • Europe: Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 established by the European Food Safety Authority
  • Japan: Japanese Agricultural Standards established by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


For more information email the Food Safety and Inspection Branch or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.