Marking, coding, traceability: Priorities for food safety

As guarantors of product safety, companies must meet very strict regulatory requirements in terms of transparency and traceability, hence the key role played by marking and coding operations upstream of distribution

Marking and coding technology experts Henri Saporta, Editor-in-Chief of Emballages Magazine, Laurent Tonnelier, President of Mobilead, and Erik Lagarde, Global Strategic Account Manager at Markem Imaje, spoke about traceability at the All4Pack conference.

The programme featured an overview of the evolution and future prospects of traceability, a guarantee of consumer confidence and, above all, safety.

Here’s a look back at what the soecialists had to say.

Traceability, food product recalls, and consumer safety

Between marking standards, new traceability norms and protocols specific to each sector and production chain, it’s hard to find your way around.

Marking and coding operations have become the keystone of consumer safety. Product serialisation provides a direct link between distribution and consumption. For traceability, that is both legible and transparent throughout the product’s life cycle.

The issues of marking, coding and traceability have recently been at the heart of the news, following numerous requests to withdraw products from the market. We all remember the Lactalis affair, in which some products were found in stores when they should have been withdrawn from sale. Then there is the case of Evian bottled water.

In addition, there is Buitoni pizza which recently made the headlines without its knowledge, as its food product was the subject of a recall operation.

Henri Saporta emphasised the importance of traceability, and the media coverage it receives, while not forgetting to mention the technologies implemented in parallel to control safety at every stage of the chain and guarantee optimum traceability.

For example, the introduction of bar codes on every product, which dates back to the 1970s, is a simple, effective and long-lasting marking and coding solution.

“There’s a bar code […] that gives the product reference, and next to it a set of variable data, including the batch number and expiration date, in this case, the use-by date – BBD – and the minimum durability date – MDD,” they said.

Minimum durability date and anti-waste operations

This is an opportunity to point out that the MDD is in no way an expiration date. It’s a commonplace that leads to many shortcuts in the minds of uninformed consumers. For example, ‘minimum durability date’ refers to a ‘product unfit for consumption after this date’. In fact, it’s simply an indicator of minimum, not maximum, shelf life.

This is just one of the reasons for food waste. Worldwide, a third of foodstuffs are ultimately wasted at the end of the chain.

This is a reality that the public authorities are aware of, which is why “a decree has been issued to explain to consumers what the DDM means”, as the editor-in-chief of Emballages Magazine points out.

Finally, retailers such as the “Too Good To Go” anti-waste application are also tackling the task of raising awareness of best-before dates, with a DDM management platform alongside these anti-waste baskets.

Evolving traceability requirements for companies

As Laurent Tonnelier points out: “Before any work is done, we need to define a common language, a lexicon […] to make sure we’re speaking the same language”.

In the field of technology, it is also essential to define and share a common language. This can be found in every aspect of business including in glossaries, conventions and practical guides. This will be the case until the day when the sector commits to a charter to respect the same rules, standards and processes.

Then, beyond the charters defined by the companies, each sector defines standards and a common language, bar code, global format, and unique numbering, in order to then set a price, specific to each country according to the sector.

The numbering varies from country to country, but does not necessarily indicate the origin of the country of production, but rather the office where the products are registered.

Finally, Mobilead’s President reminded us that standards are specific to each country, and are a matter for national vote and consensus.

A matter of chronology between standards and norms, which led the Senate to amend the marketing of the QR code – derived from a Chinese patent, deemed more reliable and practical with the mobile flash system, and applicable on a large scale.

The QR code contains a batch number, and provides information on product quality and possible withdrawal of the batch at the checkout or via mobile flash – in other words, all the so-called “hot” information.

Future prospects for traceability

Finally, Erik Lagarde from Markem Imaje confirmed that the best practice in response to this ever-changing marking and coding market remains delayed differentiation.

In the event of a recall to withdraw batches from the market, the “hot” data sometimes printed at the last moment is not necessarily available.

Improvement objectives drive innovation, which is why three new key pillars of traceability have been introduced. These are:

  • Print speed, now much faster
  • Print quality, for long-lasting marking and coding operations
  • Flexible technological solutions, synonymous with packaging adaptation

The most obvious developments in marking and coding are aimed at redefining the common language between code issuers and users. The aim is to provide legible communication and traceability that leaves no room for reminders or doubts.

Finally, the regulations in full transition envisage a more generic code by 2027, established on the basis of the common digital language, Digital D. As a final pro-environmental variable, the code will include information on product sorting conditions.

If you’d like to take part in the next edition of ALL4PACK Emballage Paris and join the experts at the Conference Area, please register now!

See you in 2024 during the next show. And in the meantime, you can find all the dates for 2023 here!

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