Consumers and governments hold FMCG companies accountable for the quality, safety, sustainability, and impact of every ingredient in every product. To meet these standards and expectations, companies are using a broad range of high tech tools for advanced traceability.

Introducing Food Forensics

Generally speaking, the term “food forensics” means using advanced science to solve food crimes. It has been used to settle issues of food tampering and adulteration, claims of mislabeling or fraud, enforce oversight or regulation, and resolve other legal questions relating to the safety and authenticity of food products and ingredients. 

More broadly, food forensics is a toolset that provides radical traceability throughout the supply chain, and these tools aren’t only being used for food. They are also important in pharmaceuticals, pet foods, and a huge range of other FMCG products. Like criminal forensics, food forensics uses a huge range of tools, including:

PLM software

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software is integral to many business processes, but is critical for traceability. PLM manages a product throughout its lifecycle, from concept to packaging, and allows traceability at any stage. PLM also helps to identify compliance or supply challenges at the design phase, catching problems early in the process. In order for PLM software to be fully effective, it needs to be integrated with manufacturing and inventory records, so that every SKU can be traced back to the source in minutes

Biological fingerprinting

Biological fingerprinting is particularly important in instances of real or suspected fraud. The most often-cited example is Basmati rice. There are only 29 varieties of rice produced in India and Pakistan that can legally be called “Basmati” rice. In Europe, EU regulations require that rice sold as Basmati not contain more than 7% non-basmati grains. However, due to the large price difference between Basmati and non-basmati rice, and the difficulty of detecting the difference, Basmati is frequently mixed with regular rice and sold at the higher price. This has led to a variety of testing measures and consumer complaints, so today Basmati rice is regularly DNA fingerprinted for authenticity. More and more F&B companies are using DNA profiles to verify the sourcing and authenticity of ingredients, and it’s a crucial aspect of food forensics. 

Electronic tracing and trackback

Electronic tracing refers to a broad suite of technologies that differ throughout the industry and throughout the supply chain. Tools like Warehouse Management Software, RFID, IoT beacons, digital tokens, and advanced analytics are being used to monitor and manage global supply chains. These tools are often supported by blockchain-enabled networks that ensure the accessibility and integrity of the data in real time. 

Challenges in Traceability

While geneticists, food scientists, and process managers continue to aggressively pursue traceability, the process is inherently difficult for several key reasons:

  • Low quality DNA. Many highly processed foods only leave trace or degraded amounts of DNA available for forensic processing. 
  • Differing regulatory environments. The global supply chain means that products and ingredients are produced and distributed in different countries, many of which have different requirements for labels, ingredients, or allergens. 
  • Proprietary genes. Many companies that produce GMO crops naturally copyright and do not disclose their sequences. However, this lack of transparency can make genetic identification much more difficult and time consuming

Advantages of Traceability

Despite these challenges, traceability not only helps companies ensure rapid and effective response in the event of a problem, but it provides some significant marketing advantages as well. 

  • Consumers want traceability. Consumers associate traceability with quality, transparency, and sustainability. Consumers want to know where their products come from, and trust companies that provide greater information and disclosure. 
  • Traceability is a powerful differentiator. Many FMCG products struggle to find a differentiator that resonates with their demographic. Why does a consumer choose one brand of milk, juice, or meat over another? Many brands are finding that transparency in sourcing is a powerful way to connect with consumers and differentiate their products, resulting in increased sales and fewer complaints

As we can see, traceability impacts every role in the supply chain, from those working in sales and marketing, to those with jobs in product formulation and ingredient development, to farmers in the fields, to project and process managers, to software engineers. It’s a crucial part of our connected world. At Grapefrute, we share your passion for science, innovation, and quality. We are an FMCG recruiter that loves the industry as much as you do. Contact us for more information about our staffing and recruitment services, or visit our site for current job openings in food supply chain management, food regulatory & food industry.