Bar Coding and RFID for the Food Industry

Many mandates, initiatives, and industry efforts are in place to improve traceability and safety in the food supply chain. One important industry effort is the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), which strives to achieve supply chain-wide adoption of electronic traceability of every case of produce by 2012.

Bar coding and RFID help the food industry achieve traceability to comply with mandates, improve safety, and enhance productivity in many ways.  Bar code solutions reduce the time and expense of data processing and provide accurate data collection. You can scan a bar code and record product codes, lot numbers, order numbers, or other useful data in seconds. Data accuracy means fewer errors in order picking and shipping, and better control of inventory. Here are some areas in which bar coding and RFID can add traceability and productivity to your operations.

Receiving– When you scan a bar code label on incoming shipments, you record the item’s arrival. The scanning receipt can trigger a software application to update records automatically with the same data. Put away locations and other data can also be included with the record for even more traceability.

If shipments are labeled with RFID smart labels, an RFID encoder at the receiving dock can be used to automatically apply a time and date stamp and the Global Location Number (part of the GS1 standard system) to document the receiving point.

Lot control – When you put lot numbers and expiration dates on a bar code, you can easily record accurate information automatically at any point in the supply chain.  You also get lot-level traceability, a feature that is extremely valuable for batch-oriented recalls.

Encode lot numbers into bar codes or RFID tags that are applied to pallet-, case-, inner pack- or item-level packaging for scanning and processing by automated systems. Inventory management systems, for example, can use variable lot code or best-by information to reduce waste by ensuring that processes follow first-in, first-out (FIFO) requirements. In addition, the encoded lot number will help to meet industry traceability requirements.

Warehouse – Businesses typically use bar coding and RFID with warehouse management system (WMS) software packages to improve labor productivity, documentation, and efficiency. When supported with timely, accurate information, a WMS can manage inventory by expiration dates to reduce spoilage. Many WMS packages can also help generate required shipping labels, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) transactions, and other required documentation.

Order fulfillment and tracking – Scan each case and pallet loaded for transport to verify that all required items are included and are loaded onto the right truck. Shipment accuracy often exceeds 99 percent when using bar code data capture and real-time verification. Capturing outgoing shipment information automatically is an efficient way to build traceability records without requiring time-consuming manual data entry.

Automatically capture lot codes and expiration dates from outgoing items and append this information to the record of the customer order. In the event of a shipment discrepancy or recall, you would have the documentation needed to trace specific lots to specific customers. The lot codes or other variable informa­tion about the cases in a shipment can be encoded on a two-dimensional bar code applied to the pallet, which the logistics provider and receiving organization could read with a single scan to gather information about the entire contents of the pallet.

RFID provides similar functionality because every tagged case or package can be scanned simultaneously without requiring the pallet to be opened, a feature that is central to many of the cross-docking and other logistics advantages RFID can provide.

Automating recalls – Mandates require that distributors have plans and processes in place to execute recalls quickly and efficiently.  By including lot codes with shipping labels and other product identification, and marrying them with customer order and shipping records, businesses limit the size, scope, and expense of a recall.

Tracking pallets and containers – Using automatic identification systems to track pallets, cartons, trays and other returnable containers lowers your operating expenses. With accurate information about the quantity and location of your shipping containers, you can avoid unnecessary purchases that create excess capacity and higher fixed asset expenses.

Identifying returnable containers and tracking them to customers gives you the information you need to improve returns and recoveries. Workers can scan the assets when they are loaded onto trucks at the distribution center, or in the field upon delivery.  Systems could record the information in the customer record or order management system, or in a separate database.  Returned assets would undergo scanning to check them back into the distribution center, similar to a dvd rental return. By actively monitoring and managing container usage, you can improve cycle times and inventory turns, while lowering your fixed asset base.

These are just some of the ways that bar coding and RFID traceability can help you meet mandates and improve your business processes. For more information, read the white paper entitled “Bar Coding and RFID Enable Food Supply Chain Traceability and Safety“, authored by Zebra Technologies.  Can bar coding and RFID help in your operations? Give us a call and we can create a solution that’s right for your business.

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