Traceability: A Critical Aspect of Supply Chain Management and Food Safety

Posted by Stacey Garcia, Ph.D. on Apr 20, 2015 4:27:00 PM

In an article published recently in Food Safety Magazine, William Fisher, VP of the Institute of Food Technologists, discusses the importance of food traceability in the wake of increasingly complex supply chains and heightened consumer awareness (you can read the article here). Fisher explains the role of traceability in emergency planning and discusses the key stakeholders involved in preventing foodborne illness.dreamstime_s_43237931

As companies are increasingly focused on traceability within their supply chain, they should also consider whether their pathogen testing program provides similar traceability and (equally important) transparency. Whether sending out to a contract lab, performing testing in-house, or receiving product from a supplier, you should feel confident that the test method is transparent and the results are traceable to the food sample, plant location, etc.

What’s the difference between traceability and transparency? 

Traceability is defined as the ability to verify the history, location, or application of an item by means of documented recorded identification. Transparency is defined as easy to notice or understand; able to be seen through; honest and open; not secretive. The two concepts are sometimes inter-dependent; for example, there are many situations where transparency enables improved traceability.

How can a laboratory and a pathogen test method demonstrate traceability and transparency? 

Are traceability and transparency both a requirement of pathogen testing, or is one more important than the other? Let’s discuss some attributes of both laboratories and the test methods they run that provide traceability and transparency for the food manufacturer.


  • A complete “auditable” trail of the entire testing process for a particular sample
  • Barcoding, RFID tags, or other electronic tracking methods that ensure sample identification is accurate
  • Automation that includes controls for consistent sample processing


  • Open dialogue with the lab about how samples are being processed and what the test result means
  • Readily available information about the technology, including validation data for relevant sample types

A considerable benefit of both traceability and transparency is access to information. Contract and in-house labs can provide additional benefit by opening a direct line of communication between the client and experts that can help interpret the information that traceability and transparency provide. Access to not only the information, but also subject matter experts, empowers businesses to make educated decisions about their testing program so that it serves to strengthen their overall food safety plan.

Understanding your Certificate of Analysis

For retailers and further processors, the quality of ingredients and finished products received from suppliers is critical to brand and reputation. The information listed on the Certificate of Analysis for incoming product should provide confidence that the product is high quality, which can be demonstrated by pathogen test results (among other things). A method that provides complete traceability performed by a laboratory that provides open communication is one of the best ways to ensure confidence that the product is safe for further processing and consumption. Retailers and further processors should be confident that the method performed is fit-for-purpose for the incoming product and that the entire testing process is documented from beginning to end.

Pathogen test traceability is critical for both suppliers and their customers

While food traceability is critical to provide confidence in food quality for both manufacturers and consumers, pathogen test traceability and transparency is critical to provide confidence to food manufacturers that their food safety programs are effective. Companies that invest significant resources into food traceability in their supply chain should consider whether their pathogen test method and their testing laboratory are aligned with their food safety plan by providing both traceability and transparency.



It is important to know how the results on a Certificate of Analysis are obtained. All pathogen methods are not the same and therefore the quality of the result can vary. This presentation will provide a risk assessment of different pathogen detection methods using a Failure Modes and Effect Analysis and will discuss how method risk impacts confidence in a COA. 

Roka Bioscience Inc., is pleased to announce that Maureen Harte will be presenting on this topic at Food Safety Summit in Baltimore April 28-30. 

If you can't make it to the the live event, you can still request a copy of it it. 

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Topics: Food Safety Summit,, pathogen testing