Bar Codes Drive Food Traceability

OrangesIncreasing pressure to provide food traceability from farm to fork has posed challenges for major food processors across the country and around the world.

The Product Traceability Initiative (PTI) compliance requirements have prompted growers and shippers to look toward improved technology for accurate tracking of food shipments.

LoBue Citrus, a family-owned grower and distributor of California oranges, sought solutions to food traceability, and at the same time hoped to increase accuracy, reduce costs of operations, and ensure an immediate response to safety issues in the event of a product recall.

Based in Lindsay, California, LoBue has been growing oranges for 78 years, through three generations of the family. The company processes four to five million oranges through their plants every year, and approximately 40 percent of those are exported to Asia.

“We needed a better solution for food traceability,” said Tom Clark, Operations Manager at LoBue. “We needed a system that would chart the ‘custody’ of the crates of fruit, for each station along the way. We hope we never need it, of course, and our record to date is impeccable, but we are meeting PTI requirements in food traceability. Through bar codes on each pallet and also each carton of fruit, we are confident that, should a problem arise, we can have an answer within a few minutes by knowing which farm the fruit came from, how it was grown, any pesticides or fertilizers used in the process, and the day the fruit was harvested, hauled and shipped.”

Previously, the company handled inventory and shipping records manually, often requiring four to six hours per day of labor. The new automated system using bar codes does the work in about an hour each morning.

Clark explained, “The savings in labor costs, as well as the increased accuracy in being able to trace the food shipments, means that we’ll see a payback from the technology in less than two years.”

The new food traceability system was fully up and running in February 2011. “There were no bugs to work out,” Clark said. “Everything is plug-and-play. The software from FoodLogiQ is user-friendly and preprogrammed, so no 'techies' are required to effectively use it. The hardware from Intermec is exactly what we expected: well-designed, durable and mobile.”

Intermec’s hardware for thisfood traceability application includes their SR30 handlheld scanners, CN3 mobile computers, and PB50 rugged mobile label printers.

LoBue Citrus is pleased with the costs savings in labor, the increased accuracy, the ability to better inventory their packing plants, and the speed at which responsibility for food shipments can be determined. Implementing the food traceability technology will allow the company to comply with increasingly demanding legislated PTI requirements while offering faster, more productive and cost efficient operations.