Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series on technology and food safety sponsored by PAR Technologies.

GMO Free. Organic. Free Range. Grass-Fed. Gluten Free. Locally Grown. Cruelty Free. Product of this state. Product of that state – as grocery shoppers continually become more consciences of the products they drop into their carts, who is responsible for backing source claims made by food companies and retailers?

“At the retail level, we go throughout the store looking at products to verify and certify certain attributes,” said Leann Saunders, COO and president of Where Food Comes From, a Denver based third-party agricultural and food verification company.

“These attributes may be ingredients within a product, non-GMO compliance or verifying claims made on an egg carton for an animal welfare standard being practiced.”

According to Saunders, verifying and creating a traceability path to products and ingredients means things to different people, defined by, “how wide and deep are you going?”

“Traceability may be within their own operation and company, or it may trace back through the supply chain,” she said.

“When I think of traceability, I think of it being more farm to fork, with identify preservation of where a product is born or grown, traced through the supply chain.”

This detailed level of traceability, which can also track ingredient products within a single commodity is complex, with technology becoming an essential tool in collecting data throughout the supply chain.

“Electronic traceability not only removes human error, but is able to keep up with commerce,” said Saunders.

“But it is not cheap, and once you commit – you are committed for long-term as it can take years and a large amount of money to make changes.”

Technology must be able to keep up with commerce, with RFID, with Internet of Things sensors, with QR codes and with encoder receiver transmitters common products in the market place.

The benefits of food retailers creating a traceability program is two-fold, explains Saunders. One on hand, it provides consumers with verified information about their food – something she sees becoming more valuable to customers. On the other, it allows retailers to make data driven decisions for quality improvement, reducing risk and product loss common to food retailers.

“In the world we live in with certification and marketing claims for food having attributes to capture consumer trust, it is crucial these claims are verified,” says Saunders.

“Traceability not only helps retailers with inventory control and management, but response time and accuracy when it comes to making management decisions.”

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