A new international standard has been set for traceability along the food chain, setting out a complete system under which processors can get certification.
The International Standards Organsation this month issued ISO 22005 as the latest in its series for the food and drink industry.
ISO 22005 sets out the general principles and basic requirements for designing and implementing a traceability system along a processor's supply chain.
Processors aim to get certified by independent audit companies in a bid to demonstrate to regulators and consumers that they have taken the necessary steps to protect the safety of their products.
In recent years, cases of food poisoning and outbreaks have pushed the many countries, including EU members, to require that processors have a traceability system in place to protect public health.
The regulations generally require that each company know who their immediate supplier is and to whom the product is being sent, on the principle of "one up, one down".
A traceability system can also help a company withdraw or recall products faster and more efficiently.
Processors who achieve certification under the new ISO standard will be required to have systems in place to trace the flow of feed, food, ingredients and packaging into and out of their plants.
They must also be able to identify the necessary documentation and tracking for each stage of production, ensure the adequate coordination between the different actors involved, and require that each party be informed of at least his direct suppliers and clients.
"Moreoever, a traceability system can improve the appropriate use and reliability of information, effectiveness and productivity of the organisation," ISO stated in releasing the standards.
Since food safety hazards can enter the food chain at any stage, adequate control and communication throughout the process is essential, ISO stated.
"One weak link in the supply chain can result in unsafe food, which can present a serious danger to consumers and have costly repercussions for suppliers," the organisation stated. "Food safety is therefore the joint responsibility of all the actors involved."
ISO also promotes the standard as a cost saving measure, doing away with the need for multiple and sometimes conflicting schemes used by different players along a supply chain.
"In the food industry, a diversity of retail and private quality schemes generate uneven levels of safety, confusion over requirements and increased cost and complication for suppliers obliged to conform to multiple programmes," the organisation stated. "ISO 22005 offers a unique solution for good practice on a worldwide basis and thus contributes to lowering trade barriers."
ISO 22005 is the second in a series of food safety standards launched by the organisation.
The standard uses the same definition of traceability as the Codex Alimentarius Commission and provides a complement for organisations implementing the ISO 22000 standard, released in 2005.
ISO 22000 sets out the basic requirements for a food safety management system to ensure safe food supply chains. ISO 22000 also incorporates the principles of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for food hygiene.
Under EU law, "traceability" means the ability to track any food, feed, food-producing animal or substance that will be used for consumption, through all stages of production, processing and distribution.
The controls were made mandatory after past food crises, such as dioxin contamination and BSE, showed that the bloc need a system to respond quickly to such events.