Apr 19th 2017 | Posted in Trends by Kristin Gordon

“Transparency” has been a fairly popular word for government, businesses, non-profits and other agencies as they describe their openness regarding finances, transactions and decision making. A similar word is making its way into the mainstream, but it focuses more on the journey that a company’s product or service went through to get where it is today. That word is “traceability,” and it defines how our food, medicine, clothes and other products we use in our day-to-day lives are tracked. Traceability allows manufacturers to provide the history and location of a product by means of recorded and documented identification. This is important to consumers and government regulators who are trying to prevent illegal pharmaceuticals, unsafe food and clothing made in sweat shops from entering the United States.

Recently, the U.S. steel industry was unhappy to learn that Canadian and Chinese steel was being used for a $4 billion construction project at the LaGuardia Airport. President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week that calls for a review of the way America does business. Part of the order calls for American firms to hire and buy American. Could there be stricter enforcement in the future on the traceability of products sold in America? The United States Department of Agriculture is asking for Trump to expand the traceability program currently in place for tracking animal disease in livestock. Traceability has already been implemented on several of our goods by using bar codes. While usage of these bar codes may be voluntary for some manufacturers today, it could become mandatory if traceability becomes law.

In November 2013, the 113th Congress of the United States passed the Drug Quality and Security Act. Part one of the Act addresses the regulation of compounding drugs. Part two refers to the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), which enables the tracing of prescription drug products through the pharmaceutical supply distribution chain.  Manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies have been required to implement lot number tracking since 2015. Starting in November 2017, drug products must be in packages with a Data Matrix barcode that provides identification on the product, serial number, lot number and expiration date. A Data Matrix code is a two-dimensional barcode in the form of a square or rectangle  that is used for encoding large amounts of data.

Beginning in November 2019, drug wholesalers must accept only serialized products and must verify unique product identifiers such as Data Matrix barcodes. Pharmacists must meet the same requirements by November 2020. By November 2023, the Act requires information to be available that would allow supply-chain partners to trace the ownership back to the initial manufacturer or repackager. This system will enhance the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to help protect consumers from exposure to drugs that may be counterfeit, stolen, contaminated or otherwise harmful.

About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It enabled the FDA to focus more on preventing food safety problems rather than relying primarily on reacting to problems after they occur. It also sparked the development of traceability technology. The food traceability technologies industry was at $10.7 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $15.1 billion by 2021.

Food can be traced by tracking shipments to reduce the risk of tampering and to inform consumers of the food’s origin, animal welfare and genetic composition. If you look at food packaging, you will find a lot number, a stock keeping unit (SKU) and a 12-digit Universal Product Code used for point-of-sale scanning. Data Matrix barcodes are showing up more and more on packaging, currently dominate the food traceability market and are projected to grow rapidly through 2021. But other technologies that trace food include infrared, biometrics, global positioning system (GPS) and radio frequency identification (RFID).  Traceability provides historical information from farm to table such as packaging, logistics, retail, storage and handling.

Do you want to know the origin of the shirt, pants, skirt or other clothing item you are wearing? You might be surprised to learn that the fabric, stitching and dye took that item to so many places around the world, that it racked up more airline miles than you. Some consumers are concerned about the conditions of fashion’s global supply chains. In April 2015, Fashion Revolution’s hashtag #whomademyclothes was shared by 63 million unique users – those who want to know how clothing is made, by whom and at what cost. Brands and retailers are increasingly facing these questions and governments too are beginning to join the debate.

A cybersecurity firm has teamed up with an international fashion business to provide scannable code technology for clothing, footwear and accessories. The manufacturers of this scannable image called VCode is slowly making its way into the textile industry. It’s called VApparel and scanning it may prevent international circulation of counterfeit products and enable garment traceability. Some clothing companies have even tried scannable Quick Response (QR) code technology on swing tickets that were displayed on the rack with the clothing item. Visitors to the retailer could scan the swing ticket on their smart phone and view interactive maps, images and information about the product’s supply chain.

Many businesses have even added information to their website that will take you on a journey showing where their products originated and how it ended up in your possession. Technology is providing ways for companies to share information up and down the value chain with their partners. Its track-and-trace function is creating access on a permission basis to a virtual passport to their items. It will be interesting to see how tracing products effects our spending habits and if it will decrease product fraud in the future.

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