Academic article

The components of a food traceability system

Olsen, Petter; Borit, Melania

Publication details

Journal: Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 77, p. 143–149, 2018

Publisher: Elsevier

International Standard Numbers:
Printed: 0924-2244
Electronic: 1879-3053

Open Access: green


Traceability of food products has become the focus of regional and national legislation, of many research and technical development initiatives and projects, and of many scientific articles. However, most of the scientific publications do not differentiate between the components of a traceability system, and those who do to some degree use inconsistent terminology and definitions. This weakens the analysis and the conclusions, and it can lead to misunderstanding in relation to what a traceability system is, what the components are, and how system functionality can be improved.
Scope and approach
This paper provides a structure for describing and analyzing a traceability system and emphasizes the difference between the system mechanisms as opposed to the attributes of the units that are traced. The basis for the classification outlined in this article is practical experience from traceability system implementations in the food industry, and participation in international standardization processes relating to food traceability. The references and the authors’ experience are from the food sector, but the component description is likely to be relevant and applicable to any product traceability system in a supply chain.
‘Traceability system’ is used as a generic term in this article, encompassing the principles, practices, and standards needed to achieve traceability of food products, regardless of how these are implemented. In practice in the food industry, most traceability systems are computerized and they are implemented through extensive use of information and communications technology (ICT), but in principle a traceability system could be manual and paper-based (as was indeed common practice only a few years ago), and the components hierarchy outlined in this article would still be applicable.
Key findings and conclusions
This paper identifies the general components of a traceability system to be the identification of the units under consideration, the recording of the joining and splitting of these units as they move through the supply chain (the transformations), and the recording of the unit attributes. The distinction between the different components is particularly important when describing and comparing traceability systems, and when recommending improvements. In both these cases, the respective components need to be considered separately.