An internet-based interface that allows food processors to see which country every ingredient has come from and each process a product goes through in the factory is set to significantly overhaul food chain traceability.
The Northern Ireland-based venture TraceAssured launched its online traceability initiative last week, promising to cut out many of the time-consuming headaches faced by food makers who identify a problem in the supply chain.
Dr Ken Baird, chairman of the company, says the system offers information on the entire food chain, from farm to fork, within minutes, compared with hours or days required in current traceability systems.
"It uses a novel approach as it traces containers instead of batches. Each container has a barcode, which can in the future be replaced by a RFID chip," he explained to FoodProductionDaily.com.
"The system registers a time when each process happens and where, presenting everything in a visual way. For example, it can bring up a factory layout or even a global map to show ingredients sourced in China or Brazil."
The project is aimed at increasing consumer trust in the global food industry, which has suffered in recent years from a series of food safety crises, particularly in the meat sector. Consumers are now also demanding greater transparency for all kinds of food products and want to know where their food comes from and which ingredients have been used.
It has taken TraceAssured around 4 years to develop the new system, testing it in poultry processing factories owned by leading European firm Moy Park, where Dr Baird is technical director.
"It's very granular. We trace and track the smallest unit in a plant, such as a 300kg choke bin of meat."
Information is also collected and stored on ingredient and packaging movements, transformation and quality from the source to retailer's shelf around the world.
The advantages are clear when a problem occurs, says Dr Baird, and food makers can pinpoint the site of the fault, rather than having to stop production for several days.
"Many systems do front door to back door traceability but ours can also go up and downstream," he added.
TraceAssured is designed to be used by millions of users, each paying little for use of the system. The firm expects a typical processor to pay an annual fee similar to the cost of one salary in its plant.
"You also get vital management information as the system can monitor yields, throughputs and inventory," said Dr Baird.
The venture has recently confirmed a global agreement with IT giant Hewlett Packard as well as receiving support from Scanvaegt International, part of the Marel Food Systems Group.
It was backed by millions of pounds in investment from some of Europe's major food businesses, the government body Invest Northern Ireland, other private investors, retailers and standard certification bodies.