The importance of food traceability

The importance of food traceability

The discovery of horsemeat in a number of frozen food products at the start of this year caused a public outcry and resulted in a number of major food retailers, such as Tesco, Iceland, Lidl and Aldi withdrawing beef products from their shelves. Both Findus and Nestle were forced to recall frozen ready meals, some of which were found to consist entirely of horsemeat rather than beef. Horsemeat was found in beef burgers and horse DNA in beef meals supplied to schools and hospitals in the UK. It seems that the situation arose from deliberate mislabelling, fraud in other words and it has raised many issues regarding the traceability of the food we eat.


Food traceability does not just mean being able to trace the provenance of your food: where your food comes from originally but also where it has been and what has been done to it on its journey from the farm to your plate through all stages of production, processing and distribution. It is a legal requirement in some parts of the world, such as the European Union. However, complicated methods of food production and an ever growing public demand for exotic foods both mean that food has become increasingly difficult to trace. We want cheap food too which inevitably encourages food producers to cut corners and no doubt led to the horsemeat scandal. Whilst the country of origin and slaughter must be included on labels for fresh and frozen beef, this has not yet been extended to other meats and ingredients in processed food. When it is, then we will know where the meat in all our food products comes from and where it was prepared, only then will our meat be fully traceable and with that, of course, will come greater costs.


The impact of the horsemeat scandal has been far reaching and although the retail trade has been most affected so far, the hospitality sector has inevitably been hit too with some fast food chains changing their suppliers as a precaution.


The key for all those in the catering industry is to know their food supplier and many British catering businesses are realising that only by using fresh meat from British suppliers can they ensure that their beef is 100% traceable. If you are in the food trade, you should view your supplier as part of your business. Here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency requires food business operators `to keep records of food, food substances and food-producing animals supplied to their business and also other businesses to which their products have been supplied.


Of course, traceability isn`t the only issue to affect the catering industry today. Hygiene continues to dominate with the Food Standards Agency awarding food hygiene ratings to an ever growing number of restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways and hotels. Premises that handle food for public consumption are given a rating based on the following: how hygienically the food is handled, how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored; the condition of the structure of the buildings, the cleanliness, layout, lighting and ventilation. How the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe is also scrutinised of course. With this last point we are back to the importance of food traceability again but it is also worth noting that premises, kitchen equipment and chefs clothing must all be of a high quality if the caterer is going to meet the Food Standards Agency`s demanding criteria.