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Special Feature: In seafood technology, traceability is inherent

Software features make it easy to track seafood up and down the supply chain

Barcodes make it possible to quickly trace fish back to their original lots. - Photos by Angela Coulombe
By Melissa Wood
May 01, 2014

Botulism, Listeria, salmonella and horsemeat. The reasons behind food recalls may vary, but the reaction is always the same: Get that product off shelves fast.

Tracing a product’s journey to market is not always simple, especially in the seafood industry. A single fish might be carved into different product forms with separate supply-chain trajectories. The ability to track that fish is not just important; an increasing number of retailers are mandating third-party audits or food-safety certifications with traceability components. 

For computer software companies that serve the seafood industry, traceability is inherent. When it comes down to it, traceability is made possible by two things: the database architecture and the data collected, explains Chris Reynolds of Edible Software in Houston. 

Every product has a lot number assigned to it, so if there’s a problem that number will bring up all the other data required for tracking it. The company has expanded its data fields to include things relevant to seafood like method of catch, when a product was received as well as when it was ordered, fixed weight and catch weight. 

“If a customer of a distributor or wholesaler were to call in and say there’s a problem with a product, the distributor can take that customer’s invoice and track all the way to the large lot and see who else got that product,” he says. “So if there is a real problem, they can then go to all those customers immediately.” 

Reynolds said there was a lot of talk about traceability in Boston when his company exhibited at Seafood Expo North America in March.

“Everybody that came to our booth, in some point in the conversation, they all asked what the traceability is and what we provide,” he says. 

However, in some ways, it’s not a big deal.

“Honestly with traceability, it’s a big thing in the industry, but it’s a small part of our software because it’s all there, it’s all done already with 30, 40, 50 other features, because everything is traced by lot,” he says. “Everything’s tracked whether it’s dollar amounts, whether it’s transactions, you can find everything quickly — exactly where things came from and to whom they were sold. Everything is this big ball of twine where everything touches each other at some point.”

Seasoft’s barcode system ties the product back to its original lot, even as the product changes form. Jim Levy, senior account manager for Seasoft, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for seafood processing and distribution businesses from Computer Associates in Smithfield, R.I., uses West Coast salmon as an example for how that works. After the fish is headed and gutted, parts of it may be sent to the freezer, or put into processing to create different skin-on and skin-off products.

“If a customer calls back and says I have a problem with an 8-ounce portion, the supplier can track it backward and say that came from this lot of fish that came off this boat on that day and see all the places the product went,” says Levy. “They can recall all that product very quickly.”

Earlier this year, CFO Lou Tarnowski of scallop supplier Eastern Fisheries in New Bedford, Mass., credited the Seasoft program for helping his company achieve British Retail Consortium certification. It is one of the recognized schemes following Global Food Safety Initiative standards required for suppliers doing business with many of the world’s major retailers like Walmart and Costco.

Flexibility is also helpful for tracking seafood’s variations. Open Systems in Shakopee, Minn., produces TRAVERSE, a SQL database in Microsoft’s .NET (pronounced “dot net”) framework. The .NET system allows users to create their own views and fields, and to upgrade the software without a programmer and without losing previous customizations. The system also boasts accessibility for smaller seafood firms because it can be scaled down for companies with as few as three users.

“What TRAVERSE does for the seafood company is to allow them to track all kinds of information that might not be in a wholesale distribution package,” says Ed Bender, executive business consultant VP for Open Systems. “We can track for seafood’s country of origin, we can track catch weight, we can track selling by case and billing by the pound. No matter how we enter that case of fish, whether it be weighed in kilograms, whether it be in pounds, quickly the system handles conversion on the fly.”

Working with Houston seafood distributor Shantou Ocean King Aquatic Food Products LLC, Open Systems recently implemented a feature called Task Pane. It makes it possible for users to have all of that information without exiting the part of the program they’re working in.

Contact Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com

 

February 2014 - SeaFood Business   

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