The need to provide full traceability of food ingredients has become more apparent than ever in recent months, and coupled with the growing consumer demand for transparency, manufacturers of finished products should consider adapting their systems if they are to stay ahead of the curve.

In response to this, leading supplier of food processing solutions GEA is offering food manufacturers a layer of enhanced functionality on a variety of its food lines which enables track and trace of every single ingredient used throughout the duration of the production process.

With over 30 years’ experience when it comes to the automation of food processing lines, GEA’s Food Solutions division based in Bakel, the Netherlands, has developed custom-built solutions to suit a vast range of customer requirements. Taking a step-by-step approach to automation, GEA’s food processing lines come with a choice of four key levels of automation known as Link Logic, Process Manager, Production Commander and Plant Controller, covering systems which meet the minimum of CE regulations, through to systems which feed back and store data.

The higher level systems can provide reporting on various trends and occurrences throughout the process of an entire production line, enabling manufacturers to monitor progress and respond to any deviations along the way. On GEA’s popular chicken nugget line, for instance, as staff access reports throughout the process information may be fed back stating that the temperature of the meat mix has slightly altered. In a highly sensitive process such as industrial scale chicken nugget production, any marginal deviation like this will likely affect the viscosity of the mixture, ultimately affecting the finished product. So food manufacturers are able to respond in real time and make adjustments to the process as needed.

Taking this one step further, GEA has enhanced the Plant Controller level of automation, providing manufacturers with complete ERP interfacing and total traceability of ingredients. At this level, GEA’s complete lines need the minimum of supervision to run, saving on labor and ensuring consistent high quality by eliminating human error and significantly reducing food hygiene risks.

In terms of traceability, before meat or dry ingredients can be added to a Plant Controller level production line, operators are instructed via touchscreen to scan the barcode of each batch beforehand. Information from the barcode including the place of origin of the ingredient gets fed back into the system and saved, allowing for upstream traceability. In conjunction with this, each product that comes out at the end of the line then gets its own unique barcode label, which is attached to the batch of finished products enabling complete traceability.

Should reports generated throughout the process highlight a potential risk of contamination, the barcode system makes it possible to trace the issue back to a specific batch of meat (or other contaminated ingredient), and ascertain which products that batch was used for. This targeted approach avoids costly mass destruction of products, and the availability of detailed reports means that food processors can prevent contaminated products from entering the supply chain in the first place.

GEA’s track and trace technology can be applied to a wide range of food production lines including those used for sausages, burgers, nuggets, processed seafood and alt-meat products. Ensuring the highest level of traceability by optimizing the automation of food processing lines provides reassurance across the entire supply chain, especially during these challenging times.

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