Regulation 178/2002 outlines the general principles of food law and requires that all food businesses must have in place a traceability system. The regulation is minimal in its description of what is required and it would in no way reflect what is considered to be best practice. The legal minimum is a system in which a food business records what ingredients/food products it receives and from who (including contact details) together with what product it dispatches to which customers (including their details) with the only exception being direct supply to final consumers. This is called the one-up-one-down system. Traceability information must be transferred up/down the chain on the product or on accompanying documents.
Is their guidance available on meeting the requirements of Regulation 178/2002?
Yes, the FSAI's Guidance Note 10 is a best practice document and goes beyond the minimum legal requirements.
How long must a food business keep traceability records?
The periods of time that traceability records must be maintained by the food business are laid down in food law as follows:
- Food business operators subject to S.I. No. 747 of 2007 as amended, must maintain traceability records for all food at least until it can be reasonably assumed that the food has been consumed. For food of animal origin the traceability information must be updated on a daily basis. It must be made clearly and unequivocally available to and retrievable by the food business operator to whom the food is supplied. For sprouts and seeds intended for the production of sprouts the food business must also update the records and transmit the relevant information on a daily basis
- Food business operators registered or approved under S.I. No. 432 of 2009 (generally processors, manufacturers and cold stores handing foods of animal origin including seafood), must maintain records for three years in all cases
Please see Guidance Note No. 10 - Product Recall and Traceability for more detailed information on the records to be kept and other traceability guidance.
Does the legislation require food businesses to be able to trace what customer received what batch of product?
To comply with the legislation you only need to know that a certain product went to a certain customer(s). It is not necessary in law to trace to the batch level. A minimum would require a list of ingredients and their respective suppliers and contact details together with a list of what products went to which customers including their contact details. This may change following European guidance but is a reflection of the current state of play. However, adhering only to the minimum legislative requirements may carry a high financial risk and may result in your customers taking their business elsewhere as your limited system leaves them exposed to possible recalls. To limit your business liability best practice is to be able to say which batches and the quantity of which product went to which customer.
A food business can trace all products distributed at a product level (i.e. any product we distribute, we know who supplied us with it and we know what customer we sold it to). However, currently it cannot trace to supplier lot/batch code level. Is this system compliant or non-compliant with Regulation 178/2002?
The minimum requirement in law is to have a system that records what foods came from what suppliers and what customers received what foods from the company. This information must be available on demand to the authorities. The bare minimum would be to know that supplier "A" supplied ingredient named "X" and that product named "Y" was sent to customer "B". If you can't trace lot numbers, then in the event of a recall all product with that name would have to be recalled. This is a business liability issue. Not having a full lot/batch tracing system would not be a defence for not having a minimally complying system even if this latter system were temporary.
How do you track bulk materials such as water or milk used in production?
In the case of bulk materials, it is necessary to time and date stamp when the product was used. If using silos, etc., keep records of when new product was added and when quality assurance/control tests were carried out on the product. Manufacturers of foodstuffs delivered in bulk may only be able to define a product batch within a defined time frame such as a day's production. Other manufacturers or caterers may be able to define a batch as an individual saleable unit. The majority of food businesses will adopt an approach between these two extremes.
A balance must be struck between the complexity and workability of a traceability system and the smallest feasible batch size. If a food business chooses the date of minimum durability (i.e. shelf-life) as their batch code (where the legislation allows) then all of the specified product carrying that date must be recalled/withdrawn in the event of a food safety incident.
In addition, in the case of bulk delivery of ingredients into bulk storage facilities, it may not be possible to ensure that only ingredients from one batch are present. The delivery dates, identification of storage facility and weight/volume of the delivery may be the only way of identifying an ingredient. In this event it is necessary that the contents of a bulk storage facility are traced through production. Remember that a real batch is one that is separated from another batch by a clean break. Batch codes that refer to batches that are not separated as such will not necessarily restrict the extent of a recall which will inevitably include related batches.
Who is responsible for traceability if you are using a third party logistics provider?
Who owns the goods is irrelevant. Regulation 178/2002 relates to food business operators and their responsibilities. Your third party logistics provider is a food business in their own right and therefore they must have a traceability system for the product they handle even if they don't own it. However, it would be recommended that a food business distributing food through a third party logistics provider works out some form of integrated system to speed up retrieval of records should a recall be necessary. After all, it will be your product that is recalled and your business that will take the hit. If a logistic outfit is owned by the food business and is therefore not a separate food business, the logistics operation should be included in the scope of the company's traceability system.
Is it acceptable to scan product at the point of picking or loading rather than the point of delivery?
The site at which you record information is not specified in the legislation. However, if you have product or raw materials on the premises that you don't have tracked in your system then you will not be compliant with the law. The best place to record information is at the goods inwards area and at the point of dispatch.
If a food business (e.g. retail multiple) operates their own central distribution centre (CDC) and they then supply their own individual retail units from this CDC what level of traceability is required and where does the responsibility for ensuring traceability lie?
In article 18, the requirement to be able to trace food is the responsibility of the food business operator. The food business operator is defined in 178/2002 as:
3. 'food business operator' means the natural or legal persons responsible for ensuring that the requirements of food law are met within the food business under their control;
The food business under their control is defined in 178/2002 as an undertaking rather than single premises:
2. 'food business' means any undertaking, whether for profit or not and whether public or private, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production, processing and distribution of food;
Therefore the owner or CEO or head person of a retail multiple is responsible for ensuring traceability in their CDC's and stores as a single business. Hence the CDC must be capable of identifying what products are received from which suppliers and which customers receive what product but if the customers are other food businesses rather than the retailers own stores product transfers will have to be traced (this might apply for returns to suppliers).
As traceability does not extend to the final consumer the stores themselves are not required to trace product they sell and if they receive supplies only from the retailers own CDC then they don't need to have supplier traceability. Equally if returns from the stores only go to the CDC then they don't need to trace them but if they go directly to the original suppliers then the retail shops would have to have systems that track what product was returned to which supplier.
It is also worth noting that article 19 on recall requires that the retail business including the CDC has an adequate system to prevent the sale of unsafe food to consumers, a system that allows them to locate and remove unsafe products from sale and a system that allows them to participate in any recall or withdrawal initiated by a supplier of the competent authority. This latter requirement may mean the return of unsafe food to the supplier or its destruction depending on what they are asked to do. These considerations also need to be built into retailers systems. The above would not hold for symbol groups because the stores are not owned by the symbol group and are therefore separate food businesses. In this case the CDC would have to have a full supplier and customer traceability system and the individual stores would at least need a supplier traceability system.
In addition to the requirement to keep the traceability information, article 18 (2) also includes the requirement for "operators to have in place systems and procedures which allow for this information to be made available to the competent authorities" on demand. The traceability information should be retrievable at CDC or retail store level. Where the retail outlet is sourcing from both the CDC and direct suppliers, this information should be kept and be available at the store. The requirements should be read in conjunction with article 19 on Responsibilities relating to withdrawal and notifications to the competent authorities - the term 'on demand' in article 18 should be considered in the same terms as 'immediately' as used in article 19. This would be the provision of the 'basic' traceability information - as what from where. More detailed information such as batch or lot codes, etc. where available, would need to be provided without delay.
A food business producing own branded product for supply to and sale by a retailer prints their business name and address on the packaging of the product. Does the inclusion of the business name and address on the packaging comply with the legislative requirements for product traceability?
The current labelling legislation allows the name of the seller to be printed on the packaging of the product. In the above case this would be the retailer. This practice is common with own brand products. The traceability legislation covered under Article 18 says that:
4. Food or feed which is placed on the market or is likely to be placed on the market in the Community shall be adequately labelled or identified to facilitate its traceability, through relevant documentation or information in accordance with the relevant requirements of more specific provisions.
Therefore, to comply with the legislation, the documentation that accompanies the product from the producer should contain the product name and identification (e.g., batch code) and the name and address of the food business that is supplying the product to the retailer. The retailer's traceability system would need to record that the product comes from this food business for their system to be compliant. There is no specific requirement that the food business producing the product should print their name and address on the product providing it is on the documentation accompanying the product.
Do the traceability requirements apply to products/services imported from outside the EU?