Traceability: Where to start?

3 pillars of effective traceability

  1. Premises identification
  2. Product identification
  3. Movement recording

3 Pillars of Effective Traceability Systems

Effective traceability allows an agri-food business to know every detail about goods coming in, moving through and leaving the operation. To achieve this, you need to have the following 3 key pillars built into your traceability system:

1. Premises Identification

Premises Identification is a critical first step to building an effective traceability system. It allows you to know where your inputs are coming from, where your products are currently and where they were shipped to. This information is necessary to have during an emergency or product recall.

What is a premises?

A premises is a parcel of land defined by a legal land description or, in its absence, by geo-referenced coordinates (e.g. latitude and longitude) on which agri-food activities take place.

What you need to do:

  • Identify all parcels of land associated with your agri-food operations by registering with the Provincial Premises Registry and obtain your Premises Identification Number.

Registering your agri-food premises in Ontario

A Premises Identification Number is a unique identifying number assigned to a parcel of land that is associated with agri-food activities. In Ontario, premises are identified and registered in the Provincial Premises Registry.

Applying for a Premises Identification Number is easy and free

To register with the Provincial Premises Registry:

Information you need to get a Premises Identification Number

You will need to accurately identify your property, preferably with an:

  • Assessment Roll Number - your tax assessment number from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

If you cannot provide an Assessment Roll Number you will need to provide one of the following:

    • Latitude and Longitude - from a Global Positioning System such as Google Earth, or go to to obtain geo-referenced coordinates for your premises.
    • Municipal Address - of the premises to be registered
    • Lot and Concession Number - of the premises to be registered
  • Link your food product identification to your Premises Identification Number. For example, make your Premises Identification number part of the product identification number, or include the Premises Identification Number on the barcode. It is best to contact your barcode equipment manufacturer for advice on how to do this as some configuration of the barcode equipment may be required.
  • Know the Premises Identification Numbers and/or contact information for all suppliers of your inputs (e.g. raw materials, agricultural products, ingredients) to your operation.
  • Know the Premises Identification Numbers and/or contact information for all buyers/customers of your products where applicable.

2. Product Identification

It is easier to find and track products that have been assigned an identification number or code. Some examples are: livestock identifiers (e.g. RFID ear tags); barcode containing an assigned lot number; harvest or production date.

The method of product identification for processed food may be determined by your commodity or market requirements; learn more at Understanding Traceability Requirements in Your Sector. Below are common product identification methods and industry standards/programs that use them in agri-food sectors today.


A barcode is the most widely used method of product identification for the agri-food sector, particularly the produce industry. A typical barcode consists of a label that is applied to a product, such as an individual item, box, or pallet. Barcode labels are cost effective and can contain customized details about the product such as variety, size, or quantity. However, barcode labelling does have some limitations, such as requiring direct line of sight to scan or read the label, short scanning distance from label to scanner, and susceptibility to wear and tear, as well as environmental conditions that may make it difficult to read the label.

For more information on standards for barcodes, please visit:


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a product identification device containing a small electronic chip and antenna that can transmit information wirelessly with an appropriate scanner. Information scanned and transmitted from an RFID tag can be in the form of an identification number or can include more data that serves to identify the product being scanned. Advantages of RFID tags include scanning at long distances (up to 20 feet depending on the device), visual scanning is not required (i.e. the scanner does not have to directly face the tag), and scanning multiple tags simultaneously. RFID is used extensively in the livestock industry, as well as for pallet movement tracking by some retail operations.

Canadian Animal Identification Programs: refer to the following organizations on requirements for animal identification:

What you need to do:

  • If you are exporting to an international market, make sure you know the country's trade requirements as well as food safety regulations with respect to product identification.
  • If you are selling to a domestic market, understand what traceability regulations are required federally for inter-province movement (if applicable) and in the destination province for product identification and labelling.
  • If you are selling directly to consumers of your products (i.e. farmer's market, retail outlet, point-of-sale transactions), make sure you have labelled your finished products with your premises and contact information, product identifier and date of sale.

For guidance on your traceability requirements, contact an OMAFRA representative at 1 877 424-1300 or

3. Movement Recording

Movement recording cannot occur without premises and product identification (see above). Once you have those two pillars in place to support your traceability system, you can track the movement of specific products from one location to another. This involves knowing at a minimum:

  • product identifier of the product being moved (e.g. animal tags, product barcodes)
  • quantity of product moved
  • date product was moved/shipped
  • shipper identification/location
  • date product was received
  • receiver identification/location
  • method of movement/transportation used
  • identification of conveyance/transportation used in movement (e.g. transport truck number, driver name, license plate)

More details can be recorded in addition to the above information, such as temperature, cleanliness of transport, etc. according to your business needs, food safety program requirements, or as your customer/market demands.

Movement recording usually involves tracking movements from one physical location to another (e.g. from cow-calf operation to feedlot, from field to packing house, from the farm to a processing facility, or from a processing facility to retail). However, movement can also be tracked within a facility as well, in order to track inventories, schedule production runs and fill customer orders. Examples include tracking inventory in and out of storage areas, use of ingredients on a production line, and movement of in-process products.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1 877 424-1300

Author: Food Safety and Traceability Programs Branch - OMAFRA
Creation Date: 1 February 2013
Last Reviewed: 11 June 2018