How does a Warehouse Management System enhance traceability for food manufacturers?
These days, consumers are very interested in the provenance of the food that they are eating and they want to have the reassurance of food products being fully farm to fork traceable. Without using barcode batch or lot numbers, tracing food products through the supply chain and warehouse would be extremely difficult.
Food safety and quality assurance is absolutely essential for food manufacturers, who cannot take any chances with the products they make and sell. For this reason, food stuffs feature lot and batch tracking, using a unique identifier to capture important ingredient information and production run details. Without using batch or lot numbers, tracing food products through the supply chain would be extremely difficult.
These days, consumers are very interested in the provenance of the food that they are eating and they want to have the reassurance of food products being fully ‘farm to fork’ traceable. Many want to know that ingredients – especially meats, fish, dairy and eggs – were organically farmed, ethically sourced and of the highest quality. For food manufacturers, being able to offer this level of traceability demonstrates transparency and accountability, which is an important brand differentiator. Without using batch or lot numbers, it is almost impossible to guarantee provenance or track an item back to a production run.
Aside from the benefits to consumers and ensuring regulatory compliance, lot and batch number tracking also has operational advantages because it improves distribution efficiency.
How do batch and lot numbers work?
A batch or lot number is basically a unique identifier that can be generated automatically using a set numbering convention e.g. date, time, factory number, production run number, ingredient supplier reference or even the end customer number. It helps manufacturers to uniquely mark (and then be able to identify) a group of products within the supply chain. If a product needs to be recalled for any reason, it can be identified using the batch or lot number.
Some retailers will stipulate that a manufacturer needs to track lot numbers to meet minimum compliance standards and provide a higher level of health and safety assurance for customers. They may require the manufacturer to be audited on a regular basis to ensure they are following best practice in the generation of lot or batch numbers. Should there be any issues it allows them to communicate this to customers, stating where a production run has been recalled and specify which lot numbers the issue relates to. For the manufacturer, if it is possible to isolate an issue with a product, it reduces wastage if the items need to be destroyed.
Why are tracking, sell by and use by dates important?
In the interests of managing food waste, attitudes towards sell by and use by dates are slowly changing in the UK, as retailers acknowledge that some may be unnecessary. However, they remain very important and many food products require a sell-by and an expiry date to be marked on food packaging. Notable new exceptions include fruit, vegetables and milk. Although the regulations are changing slowly, food manufacturers are legally bound to keep accurate stock rotation records and confirm to industry best practice labelling conventions. In addition, non compliance is very risky, it could result in a fine and long term reputation damage.
Following industry best practice stock rotation not only means that customers can enjoy a higher quality product, it also ensures that waste is minimised, because products are always sold for the full price, without any need to reduce them for a quicker sale.
How to select an efficient stock rotation system
Inventory management is one of the most important processes in the warehouse because so much capital is tied up as stock. In the food industry, this involves tracking batch and lot numbers and monitoring expiry or sell by dates.
Barcoding is the most common way to identify products with a lot or batch number, using either a traditional numerical (2D) barcode or a QR code. It is very efficient for inventory tracking and a large volume of information can be stored in the barcode, from manufacturing details to product use-by information. A warehouse management system (WMS) can store the barcodes relating to a particular batch or lot and make it very easy for warehouse management to identify specific items.
How can lot and batch tracking be used in practice?
One commonly used stock management process is FIFO – First-In, First-Out. As the name suggests, the oldest inventory is always shipped or sold off first, to ensure efficient stock rotation and avoid any out of date products being left on shelves. A WMS can help implement FIFO by specifying that a picker always selects the older products first and also, by alerting if there are items available at a warehouse location that are nearing their expiry date.
Some retailers require all warehouse transactions to be handled electronically, with Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or ASN (Advance Shipping Notification). Here product and shipping information is exchanged automatically giving advance warning of what stock items are on a delivery. The information exchanged will also include lot and batch numbers.
A WMS can significantly simplify the process of lot and batch tracking and will help streamline any food manufacturing company’s warehouse operations. A best of breed solution like Indigo WMS will help ensure that your warehouse complies with food industry regulations and is running to full efficiency and accuracy at all times. Indigo is also able to supply a wide range of barcode scanning and barcode & label printer hardware to meet your needs.