Printer icon Print Page

Traceability Systems Needed to Increase Trust in Food Safety

Recent food product recalls in Canada and around the world reinforces the importance of a robust system of traceability to protect the safety and quality of our food supply.

Ottawa, November 2, 2012—Recent food product recalls in Canada and around the world reinforces the importance of a robust system of traceability to protect the safety and quality of our food supply. Without such a system, public trust and public safety are at risk.

In a new publication for its Centre for Food in Canada, The Conference Board of Canada recommends that all players in the food supply chain be able to trace where they got a product or ingredient from, and where they sent that product. In other words, each firm in the food supply chain needs to be able to accurately trace its products or ingredients one step forward and one step back in the supply chain.

“Food traceability is a vital part of the food risk management system: it underpins Canadians’ trust in food safety, quality, and healthiness,” said Alison Howard, Principal Research Associate. “The ability to trace a product’s journey from point of sale back to its origin is a vital part of today’s food risk management system.”

Many food industry firms in Canada already comply with the principle of one-step-forward and one-step-back because of export requirements, private standards, and/or their own internal food safety practices.

To be fully effective, however, traceability systems must all link together so that the entire food supply chain is covered. The one-step-forward and one-step-back approach to traceability can be universally implemented, but, at the same time, lessens the financial burden borne by companies.

While it might be ideal for companies to be able to trace a product or ingredient throughout the entire supply chain, such a process is extremely complex and prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, evaluations of this kind of system found little or no benefit to food safety, so it may not actually be a great improvement over the one-step-forward and one-step-back approach.

Traceability is especially crucial during food safety incidents – both to speed up the response and to reduce the scale of product recalls, which benefits both consumers and the food industry.

The report, Forging Stronger Links: Traceability and the Canadian Food Supply Chain, highlights actions that governments, industry, and others could take to strengthen traceability’s role in the food supply chain:

  • mandate minimum traceability requirements so that suppliers can trace their products and ingredients one step forward and one step back;
  • make traceability systems universal and comprehensive;
  • develop traceability systems to be compatible, so that information about food products can be communicated quickly and easily throughout the supply chain and with government authorities in the event of a safety problem;
  • make premises identification mandatory for poultry and livestock producers; 
  • require detailed information to handle emergencies quickly;
  • help to fund firm’s start-up costs and encourage flexible, cost-effective systems;
  • promote the benefits of participation in traceability systems to all players in the food supply chain; and
  • use continuous evaluation to improve system performance.

The report is one of 20 being prepared by the Conference Board’s Centre for Food in Canada. The principal goal of the Centre is to engage stakeholders from business, government, academia, associations, and communities in creating a Canadian Food Strategy —one that will meet the country’s need for a coordinated, long-term strategy on healthy and safe food, consumer security, industry viability, and sustainability.

View video commentary about this report, which is publicly available at A webinar on this report will be held Monday, November 26, 2012 at 3 p.m. Eastern time.

For more information contact

Corporate Communications

Monthly Newsletter

Get updates about Conference Board research and events by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

RSS Feed

RSS Feed  Subscribe to the Conference Board’s News Release RSS Feed

Access Our Research

Access to The Conference Board’s reports is free of charge to professional journalists upon request.

Access Our Experts

We have a team of experienced researchers and economists who are able to comment on current events or share their expertise for news features.

Connect with Us