In recent years, track and trace systems that electronically record the paths shipments take has become almost as important to businesses as shipping costs themselves. Being able to help trace products helps a company anticipate events that could disrupt the supply chain, including order shipping mistakes, bad weather, and accidents so they can be averted.
Today most product shipments can be traced. GPS devices are sometimes placed on containers, railcars, and trucks to track the movement of expensive shipments. Tracing individual products is harder, though. Systems that utilize electronic product codes and RFID tags are not yet in widespread use. Produce is a product that’s hard to trace. You have probably noticed that the bananas, peaches, and other types of produce don’t have barcodes slapped on them. Products that are combined to make other products are also hard to trace
Being able to trace products is important not only to businesses but also to consumers. Consumers are more interested than ever in knowing where their products come from—particularly when there is a contamination problem with an offering. Products containing salmonella infested peanuts, tomatoes, and contaminated milk have sickened and caused the deaths of consumers and their pets across the globe. Even if the source of the contaminated product is known, consumers can’t tell exactly where the products originated from, so they stop buying them altogether. This can devastate the livelihood of producers whose products aren’t to blame.
Companies are working to develop systems that may one day make it possible to trace all products. The Chinese government is working toward that goal in conjunction with a Norwegian company called TraceTracker. TraceTracker is testing an online service that can identify and track each batch of every product that is merged together in the global food chain, from raw ingredients to products on supermarket shelves. 1