Going Beyond FSMA 204 Compliance by Harnessing the Power of Data and Technology
November 13, 2023
Many companies covered by FDA’s Food Traceability Rule, also known as FSMA 204, are focused on the January 20, 2026 compliance deadline. Taking a step back to look at the big picture, it’s important to recognize that the work we’re doing now will yield benefits far beyond compliance with current regulations.
Connected Data + The Power of Technology
In fact, this work is about more than food traceability. Whether you’re a grocery retailer, foodservice operator, distributor, or wholesaler, the path you’re on to comply with this rule will take you to a new way of doing business and a new relationship with your customers and suppliers. The data records required by FSMA 204 will be the backbone of a global data network.
You will be tapping into the power of technology to capture data efficiently and consistently. You will be using tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to explore the full value of this data. The full value of connected data includes food traceability and safety, but it will also enhance transparency across your supply chain, which in turn will engender consumer loyalty.
Connected data will fuel proactive buying decisions that will reduce waste, save money, and strengthen relationships between buyer and seller.
Meeting These Challenges Leads to Transparency and Consumer Confidence
There will, of course, be challenges. A report released this year by the consulting firm Deloitte addresses data, process, stakeholder and technology challenges. Meeting each of these challenges is part of the work you’re already doing to comply with FSMA 204, including having the right technology to achieve lot-level traceability and improve current recall processes.
There are resources available to help you surmount these challenges, which we reference at the end of this article. You will come out the other side into a world in which the global food supply chain is transparent and you will have the data you need to make informed decisions that will improve your business and give your customers the confidence they deserve to have in the quality and safety of the foods you provide.
Changing Landscape with Technology
The technology you use to comply with FSMA 204 and the data you collect will change the landscape of how you do business.
In this increasingly complex global food system, there are too many sources of data to capture manually. FDA’s Food Traceability rule does not require anyone to use a specific solution, so let’s look at some of the technology options for connected traceability, quality, and food safety.
Cloud-Based Traceability Software
Cloud-based traceability software will enable you to easily capture, store, and share key information with partners. While this may seem more costly upfront, there will be time-saving efficiencies. And there are options for smaller organizations that may have limited budgets. iFoodDS offers a checklist to help you find the right FSMA 204 traceability partner.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be instrumental in converting the data you will be receiving into powerful predictive information. iFoodDS released a white paper entitled “Predictive Analytics in the Food Supply Chain” (PDF) that describes the shift in quality analytics from reactive to predictive.
For example, AI and ML can inform your sourcing decisions based on information about the quality of commodities in different regions throughout the year. They can help you adjust to adverse weather events and provide insights on future market fluctuations.
They will ultimately have a role at all levels of decision-making. Dr. Elliot Grant, CEO of Mineral, discusses how AI and ML may help growers make decisions about sustainability in an uncertain climate and will provide high-quality data that fuels collaboration between trading partners.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Wiliot, a company developing Internet of Things (IoT) technology for supply chains and asset management, announced it has achieved the ability to sense and analyze humidity levels of grocery products, in real-time, throughout the supply chain. (IoT describes the network of physical objects that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.)
These new capabilities will help grocers, retailers, food distributors, and brands of consumer-packaged goods better ensure the safety, integrity, freshness, and sustainability of moisture-sensitive products.
Modern technology, such as IoT devices, AI, and cloud-based platforms, makes it easier to gather, store, and analyze cold chain data (temperature records, time stamps, location data, handling and storage conditions, equipment data, breach alerts, transport details) in real-time to help ensure that perishables are always stored at the right temp, minimizing risk of spoilage or bacterial growth.
For example, when a truck currently arrives at a distribution center, the receiver takes the temperature recorder and attaches the log to the receiving documentation, which is then passed on to a quality inspector. Technology that can track the temperature and humidity levels in the truck from the time product is loaded at the shipping point can be combined with the products’ traceability information, its purchase order information and with the quality assurance inspection at the dock. This saves several work steps, reduces paperwork, and improves accuracy. This aggregated information is then available for review by the receiving department, the quality assurance inspectors, the buying office and even the merchandising group.
Overall, these technologies will increase efficiencies and reduce labor costs by moving beyond manual reports. Tracking will be more accurate, particularly with the standardized data that is the bedrock of compliance with FSMA 204.
Better Business Decisions
Connected data will shift you from a reactive to a proactive mindset in ways that include:
Leveraging historical data to identify trends in quality by location, season, and supplier to help ensure that you are getting the best, and safest, product.
For example, combining inspection report data at the Distribution Center (DC) level with sourcing information from specific growing regions or even individual farms can help a grocery retailer’s procurement team optimize their daily sourcing decisions to result in a higher level of customer satisfaction at the store level. You can use the data to unlock visibility into specific locations and weather conditions to help predict availability and quality.
Informing logistics and stocking methods to improve quality and reduce waste.
Many organizations operate on a first-in, first-out basis, with the product that is received first shipped out first, regardless of expiration or best buy date, quality, or shelf life. With newer technology, taking a first expired, first out approach can significantly reduce waste and increase customer satisfaction at the store level. For example, by using growing region-specific product information and combining it with DC-level product quality data enables the DC team to ship product based on anticipated expiration dates. This combination of data when shared with the merchandising team can result in the stores offering consistently higher quality product to their consumers.
The Importance of Collaboration
In the years ahead, using technology to amass connected data will improve the relationship between buyers and suppliers.
Easily Share Inspection Data
Buyers can easily share quality inspection data with suppliers to ensure alignment with their specifications and expectations. By evaluating historical individual supplier product quality information, a procurement team can develop supplier scorecards which are invaluable tools to be shared during annual supplier reviews. Use that data to negotiate pricing or create a preferred supplier list when product is consistently high-quality and meets standards
Gain a Competitive Advantage
By working together with your trading partners, your organization will gain a competitive advantage by demonstrating traceability and food safety best practices. In fact, the combination of traceability and digitalization will create a visibility throughout the food system that will help everyone across the supply chain reach the goals they share – food safety, food quality and consumer trust.
The Importance of Transparency
Traceability, quality, and food safety data combine to tell a bigger story. Increased digital record keeping removes the silos between trading partners to provide a complete picture of your supply chain.
Numerous studies have shown that this kind of transparency is important to consumers all over the world. Simply put, they want to know where their food was grown or made so they can decide for themselves what to buy and serve their family.
The benefits from a business perspective in transparent data collection are clear. Sales and revenue will be improved when this data drives a preference for your brand. Fewer safety issues enhance a brand image and the ability to share product information beyond ingredients will be valued by consumers.
You Don’t Have to take This Journey Alone
iFoodDS and New Era Partners have resources to help you find the best traceability and technology solutions. For more information, visit iFoodDS’ FSMA Rule 204 Information Hub and explore the resources available via New Era Partners.