Introduction to Traceability

Table of Contents

  1. What is Traceability
  2. Record Keeping and Information Management
  3. Traceability Culture in the Workplace

What is Traceability?

Traceability is the ability to follow products through all stages of the agri-food chain - from production to retail and provides an effective way to track an identified product and its marketable attributes such as "locally raised" or "gluten free" as it moves between locations.

A Traceability system contains the tools, standards (such as format and product coding requirements) and processes used by your facility to collect, keep, and share essential information that is required to track your raw materials, ingredients and products through receiving, processing and distribution. When extended beyond your facility, traceability and information sharing can lead to improved supply chain management. For example, greater efficiencies for more than one business can be achieved through improved scheduling of production needs with suppliers and buyers.

Traceability is an important tool for Ontario agri-food businesses. Traceability has numerous business benefits and can help you to:

  • meet your market requirements and access new market opportunities;
  • manage an effective product recall;
  • conduct planning, preparation, response and recovery efforts in the event of an animal disease outbreak;
  • ensure confidence in your products; and
  • protect your business and your customers.

Effective traceability requires three components to be in place for your business:

  • The Three pillars of Traceability - Premises Identification, Product or Animal Identification, Movement Recording
  • Record Keeping and Information Management
  • Traceability Culture in the Workplace

Record Keeping & Information Management

Types of traceability systems range from simple paper-based record keeping to more sophisticated information management that uses automated and computerized components for efficient data capture and secure access to information.Asparagus in buckets ready to be shipped

Setting Up an Effective Record Keeping System

Effective traceability is based on effective record keeping. Record keeping must be:

  • Easy to use
  • Easy to access
  • Purposeful - must have a reason to keep the record and it provides useful information to your business
  • Organized

Memories fail or can be unreliable, particularly over time. Written records need to be kept for the following reasons:

  • Verification for program requirements (e.g. environmental programs, food safety or animal welfare audits)
  • Forecasting for production needs and yields
  • Productivity monitoring
  • Finding waste and inefficiencies that are costing you money
  • Benchmarking to compare performance of either an animal, product or your own farm against others in your sector.

Examples of records include:

  • Receiving/shipping logs
  • Processing records such as weigh receipts, recipe sheets or blending records
  • Farm production records such as spray records or animal health product treatment records

What is Information Management and What Does It Mean to My Business?

Information management is the collection, storage and sharing of information about the financial and production aspects of your business. Information can be managed using a paper-based system through record keeping or with more technologically advanced methods.

Information that is managed using an organized and well structured system can make it easier to verify, analyze and report on key aspects of your operation, helping you to make better business decisions.

Technology Improvements to Your Traceability System

Many businesses have made the switch from paper-based to electronic, automated traceability systems. Electronic, automated traceability systems typically yield a positive return on your investment in the form of efficiencies in labour and cost reductions in some operational expenses.

A number of traceability technologies can be integrated into automated traceability systems. Traceability technologies can include barcodes, scanners, labelling equipment and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and readers. Advantages of electronic and automated Traceability systems include:

  • Faster and more accurate information collection (less chance of human error)
  • Improved operational efficiency and productivity
  • Ability to respond more quickly and accurately to customer demands and requests
  • Easier data capture than paper record keeping such as in wet or damp environments

Sheep with ear tags and painted identifiers

Traceability Culture in the Workplace

What is Culture?

Culture is the shared beliefs, attitudes and values that characterize the behaviour and relationships of all individuals within a social group.

What is Traceability Culture in the Workplace?

Traceability culture in the workplace is a work environment in which all employees share the responsibility for traceability. Their behaviour demonstrates that they know what needs to be done and are motivated to do it because they understand that traceability is central to everything they do. Employee buy-in and engagement in traceability culture differs from a traceability program in that everyone feels personal responsibility to ensure accurate recording and the integrity of the traceability system.

Traceability Program

Traceability Culture

Management establishes rules and expects staff to follow Rules provide the framework but employees go beyond to protect the integrity of the traceability system
Rules govern behaviour and specific activities of staff Everyone feels personal responsibility to ensure accurate recording
Activities and actions are monitored by supervisors/quality control staff and corrective action is taken if required Employees identify high-risk situations and intervene to correct them, staff monitor themselves and others

Traceability Culture: Why Bother?

Traceability is an important tool for meeting market requirements and accessing new market opportunities, effective product recall, ensuring product confidence and the protection of business and customers. Traceability culture in the workplace is important because:

  • All staff will be fully committed to effective traceability - from managers to temporary workers
  • It will encourage all employees to know their roles in the traceability system and traceability best practices will become second nature
  • Staff committed to ensuring an effective traceability system will receive positive reinforcement, resulting in greater levels of employee satisfaction
  • It may lead to lower employee turnover, resulting in reduced recruitment and training costs
  • It creates conditions for continuous improvement
  • Fostering an effective traceability system and culture helps to prevent, mitigate and reduce the effects of incidents such as food safety recalls

Leadership in Developing Traceability Culture

Management plays an important role in creating traceability culture in the workplace because effective leadership demonstrates your business's vision for traceability. This conveys an expectation of traceability behaviour and making traceability a value reinforces its importance to your staff.

Measure Your Progress

Determining your progress towards traceability culture in the workplace is important so that effective steps can be taken to improve future performance.

Key things that will help determine if your traceability culture is a success are: error rates, staff feedback on system status or improvements, staff morale, etc.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1 877 424-1300
E-mail: traceability@ontario.ca


Author: Food Safety and Traceability Programs Branch
Creation Date: 18 April 2016
Last Reviewed: 25 June 2018