Food Safety: Germany’s E. coli Outbreak and Tracking / Tracing Software

The ongoing E. coli outbreak in Germany serves as yet another example of the essential link between food safety and tracking / tracing capabilities. Standard operational efficiencies for handling produce include the ability to create batch identities for crops in the field, and then assign similar identities for crates that the crops go into during harvest.

These batch identities allow companies to track produce as it moves through the supply chain, from packing facilities to distribution centers and ultimately to the marketplace. At each stop along the way, workers enter information about washing procedures, handling processes, etc. This strategy substantially reduces the chance for tainted food to reach the end of the supply chain—and in the event that it does, batch identities can be easily located and corresponding produce pulled from shelves.

The world has watched Germany struggle to locate the source of the E. coli that to date has sickened thousands of people and killed at least 30. Suspicions have passed from Spanish cucumbers to tomatoes to leafy greens to sprouts. With each passing day, it becomes more difficult to identify the origin of the outbreak, while becoming more obvious that both government and food suppliers must take bold moves to protect their citizens and customers.

Don’t be surprised to see a push for Europe-wide food-safety legislation, especially if authorities manage to pinpoint the source and prove that it originated from outside Germany. In 2007, the European Union instituted legislation known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals), which regulates the manufacture and transportation of chemicals throughout the EU.

Here in United States, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) has taken root. As explained on its website, PTI “outlines a course of action to achieve supply chain-wide adoption of electronic traceability of every case of produce by the year 2012.”

Following the precedent established by REACH, it’s conceivable that the EU will push for a European-based initiative similar to PTI. Regardless, the need for improved food safety, and thus tracking-and-tracing capabilities, has never been clearer. What’s more, as PTI illustrates, we have the necessary technology to suffice tracking requirements and make improved food safety a reality today.

There is no need for companies to wait for government mandates before implementing tracking-and-tracking software to support internal food safety programs. Not only will early adoption of myAgri, an SAP Business All-in-One Solution, give companies a head start on potential future legislation, but it will also allow the early adopters to gain an immediate competitive edge over industry peers.

Companies that can track and trace throughout the supply chain are more efficient, better organized and ultimately more profitable. We could very well see a situation where governments put pressure on food suppliers to guarantee the quality of their products, resulting in more widespread adoption of sophisticated SAP solutions like myAgri. In this instance, companies that stall might not face immediate sanctions from their governments, but they would face the prospect of diminished market share as their better-equipped opponents make the most of IT investments. Food enterprises that adopt solutions now will position themselves well for whatever the future holds.

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