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Why as a consumer we must know about food traceability?

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The journey of items grown on the farm to the consumer’s plate is not simple.

Why as a consumer we must know about food traceability?
The Indian terrain and climate, though varying across the subcontinent, are known to support the cultivation of various fruits and vegetables. Due to such high production capacity, India ranks second in the world for its agricultural produce. As per a recent report published by the National Horticulture Board, the nation witnessed a bumper harvest of fruits and vegetables amounting to 90.2 million metric tonnes and 169.1 million metric tonnes, respectively. Further, due to its wide-spread production base in the year 2019-2020, the country exported fruits and vegetables worth Rs 9,182.88 crores. These are just a few indicators, which showcase that the Indian food culture stands tall on the ideas of fresh and locally produced commodities.
However, the journey of items grown on the farm to the consumer’s plate is not simple. It entails multiple as well as complex steps and procedures before the commodities finally reach their final destination.
With growing consumer awareness and the addition of numerous channels across the supply chain, food traceability has emerged as a top priority. It is visible from the Consumer Food Value Equation survey conducted by Deloitte, which states that 62 percent of buyers focus on transparency coupled with other wellness-oriented parameters while making their purchase decision.
Alternatively, known as the "one-step-back and one-step forward principle"; it can be defined as the ability to track the movement of food through various stages of production, processing and distribution. It empowers companies and authorities to identify and eradicate unsafe items from the supply chain while ensuring that only high-quality food reaches the consumer.
In India, food safety was conventionally governed by section 28 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. However, the scope of this regulation was narrow, and the evolution of the food industry along with the rising consumer demand for healthy food items necessitated the need for an all-encompassing process leading to the introduction of Food Safety and Standards (Food Recall Procedure) Regulations, 2017. These guidelines not only hold the brand owners accountable for food safety; but also make every food business operator and trading partner responsible for the same. The primary objective of the regulation is to make certain the retrieval, removal, reprocessing or destruction of food under recall from all levels of the food chain.
The rampant rise in the adoption of food traceability is credited to the multiple benefits it has to offer. Here are some of the advantages that consumers can reap from such systems:
Ensures food safety
By tracking the movement of items right from their point of production till they reach the end consumer, traceability makes food supply chains reliable. Further, it also facilitates the removal of commodities that are unsafe or spoiled during transit, making sure that only fresh, healthy and nutrient-rich goods reach the buyer. By recording information at each stage, it allows customers to make an informed purchase decision.
Tracking
Identification of food is essential to ensure hassle-free traceability. Technological disruptions such as barcode systems and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology have revolutionised the face of tracing commodities across complex supply chains. Under these procedures, barcode labels or security seals, are used to provide real-time information about food in transit such as the location of items, and at the same time ensure the absence of fraudulent activities. Availability of such details helps boost the buyer confidence, and the image of the brand improves.
Increase in trust and provision of additional information
The inclusion of traceability in the purview of food production and distribution has proven to be beneficial for all stakeholders. Consumers are now free from the limited information provided by conventional labelling models and gain deeper insights about the product, such as production and handling methods amongst others. The rise in the volume and quality of information has worked wondrously in promoting buyer trust as well as dependability.
Reduction in errors
Food traceability systems keep track of every single movement and process that takes place right from the farm to an individual's plate. During this endeavour, it focuses on relentlessly eliminating and replacing items which are spoiled or damaged. Further, with the help of AI and other technological advancements errors have been minimised, and distribution has become efficient. Traceability is a tool that promises that there is no compromise in the quality of the final commodity that reaches the king—consumers.
Promotes consumer satisfaction
The new-age market is brimming with customers who are informed and particular about the food they eat. Individuals are opting for offerings which are healthy, fresh and cruelty-free. With the thoughtful and thorough implementation of traceability systems across supply chains, companies are not only catering to these needs of the buyers but are also able to exceed their expectations.
It would not be wrong to say that the advent of food traceability has proven to be a game-changer. It has brought structure, efficacy, and transparency in the spectrum of modern-day dynamic and maze-like supply chain systems. Shoppers can confidently choose from the varied offerings as their decisions are supported by real-time information.
—The author, Thirukumaran Nagarajan is CEO and Co-Founder, Ninjacart. The views expressed are personal
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