Food Safety & Traceability
With 20 years experience in “field to fork” systems, we understand the challenges
in both field pack and plant packing processes. Labeling difficult surfaces is like “putting a label on a hairbrush.” We’re an industry leader in produce traceability, payroll tracking systems and supply chain logistics solutions
We have created Adhesive Guard ™, a patent pending process that reduces adhesive ooze and ensures less printer jamming and downtime. For more information click here.
PRODUCE TRACEABILITY INITIATIVE (PTI)
The food industry is committed to food safety. There is a great deal of incentive for them to isolate any product that may be related to a safety problem and reassure consumers which products are not involved in a recall. This type of commitment requires the ability to trace products through the entire supply chain; from source to dock, warehouse to shelf. Furthermore, the U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires every handler of food products establish and maintain records to document movement of its products both one step forward and one step backward through the supply chain. While these records are available today, there has not been any standardization enabling coordinated and speedy implementation. If industry wide initiatives such as PTI are not adopted, then the likelihood is the FDA will intervene with their mandated law.
What is PTI? PTI is the Produce Traceability Initiative. It is not a law. It is an industry initiated program. PTI was created to establish a standardized system to label every carton of produce. PTI does not include item level traceability. Item level traceability identifies each item within a master carton and would provide traceability information at the consumer level. It promotes industry standards by which produce can be traced through the supply chain in a consistent manner, from the field to the retail store. The goal is supply chain-wide adoption of electronic traceability by 2012.
Why PTI? PTI is a faster path to safety. PTI is being implemented to address the safety issues surrounding product recalls. In 2007 and 2008 there were over 900 product recalls covering hot peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, bagged spinach, and lettuce resulting in over 2000 known illnesses and 3 deaths. The first priority is to protect consumers through faster and more precise identification of implicated product. Timing is critical if the product must be withdrawn from the supply chain.
Who is expected to participate? PTI recommends that all companies involved in produce marketed in the US, adopt this common approach to carton identification. This includes but is not limited to growers, packers, re-packers, distributors, traders, retail stores, and foodservice operators.
What needs to be done? The Initiative calls for adapting internal tracking systems to include three common pieces of information that can be tracked throughout the supply chain. The information to appear on every carton is 1) the Commodity Description (e.g. variety, variety group, color, etc), 2) pack Configuration, and 3) a 128C barcode including the GTIN, lot number, and date with a human readable version of the data shown below the barcode. These labels must remain on the packaging until consumed or replaced by a trading partner. PTI requires participants to use the initiative standards on every case of produce by July 2010. Given the many complicated challenges participants must overcome to be compliant, it is anticipated many participants will not be compliant by that time.
How is the PTI labeling done? All produce can be broken into two main categories for the purpose of determining how PTI labeling will be done. Those packed in the field and those packed in a packing plant. Each of these two groups has unique challenges.
PTI Field Pack Labeling
Every carton of produce must be identified with specific information that in many instances will not be known until the actual time of harvesting. The PTI specifications include either a field/lot number and/or a Julian date. As such, in most instances, the labels cannot be preprinted days, weeks, or months in advance. Because of this single attribute included in the PTI specifications, there are only a few options to growers who field pack product; a) print and apply labels in the field as product is packed, b) print at the storage facility and label each carton when ships arrive from the field, or c) preprinted labels applied in the field.
Employees harvesting the crops wear gloves or have dirty hands. They must affix a label to the RPC, wax-coated carton, or wooden crate. If they apply the labels manually, the label should not stick to their gloves. Our PTI labels do not stick to latex or vinyl gloves. Optionally they can apply labels with a hand held applicator. We can assist you with hand held applicators. Further the RPC or wax-coated carton resists label adhesion. Pallets are loaded onto flatbed trailers and taken from the fields to the processing plants. The label must stay affixed through the air turbulence of highway speed transport to the processing plants. In some instances there is significant exposure to cold water hydro cooling, vacuum washers, and/or ice injection before being stored in near freezing temperatures. In other instances high turbulence wind cooling is performed to chill product. In every instance the label must remain adhered to the packaging unit.
A. Printing/applying labels in the field. As product is packed, a PTI label is printed and applied to each case before being palletized. Label information MUST be dynamic because of the varying characteristics of the produce harvested. The advantage to field application of labels is that most required information is available. The disadvantages are numerous. A computing device, label printer(s), and possibly label dispensers are required for each harvesting team in the field. All devices must be rugged and withstand environmental conditions. Power must be available for electronic equipment. Staff must be capable of running electronic equipment and software. If there are any problems in operating equipment, software or personnel training, technical support will be necessary. At the very least, a back-up plan is necessary. Not all PTI information originates in the field. For example, PTI requires the carton label include the lot designation. Sometimes the lot information is assigned by the shipper, not the grower. If this was the case, the grower would need this information in advance from the shipper. All of the above require considerable expense.
B. Printing/applying labels at the cooler for field packed produce. Once field packed products are harvested, it is critical to chill them as soon as possible, as exposure to heat will diminish product life and result in spoilage. Labeling at the cooler could overwhelm the receiving and shipping processes, jeopardizing the shelf life and quality of the product. A labeling system would need to be devised such that it doesn’t conflict with the incoming and outgoing flow of produce shipments. There must be a means of assigning traceability from the field to the plant via a pallet label. The labeling process must be done without damaging or bruising product. If the pallet layout is such that every carton can be labeled in the correct position without unloading the pallets, then minimal product damage would occur. If it is necessary to unload cartons from pallets in order to place labels in the correct position and then re-palletize, damage and bruising may occur. Speed is the key, especially if product is labeled outside. Highly perishable products like berries may lose a day of product life for every hour delayed entering the cooler. If labels are printed on demand as the truck is unloaded, it may take 6-7 minutes to print the labels for a truckload, then up to an hour to label the truckload (assuming about 5 seconds to locate and label each carton).
C. Preprinted label option. Preprinted label option. The third option is to preprint PTI labels with the specific lot information. The more complicated the operation, the more difficult this is to do. As such, this is more suited to those growers with fewer SKUs and less uncertainty about harvests. Some growers are doing this now to simplify the printing equipment costs. Pointil can preprint up to 10 million PTI labels daily.
PTI Shed Pack Labeling
Growers are responsible for providing batch/lot information to packing plants or packing co-ops enabling the plants to provide batch/lot information to their trading partners. Typically product delivered in bulk to packing plants is field packed in packing units (i.e. bins, totes, containers, etc) for transport. For growers, the traceable item is always the field packing unit. Each field packed unit shipped to a packing plant must be uniquely identified to assist packers in assigning batch or lot numbers in packing plants. A packing company that has their own fields may use internal tracking tags/labels to identify product from their fields. A packing company or packing co-op that receives bulk product from various growers will need their growers to provide a PTI label on the bulk product. Each uniquely designated lot from the field must have a separate batch number assigned in order to track back to the field. Uniquely identifying individual field lots is the challenge for plant packed product. PTI label implementation is relatively straightforward once this is done. In many instances label printing and applying can be done with automatic equipment along an existing conveyor line. There is another potential challenge for plant packers in that they may be requested to provide additional labeling or adding the PTI requirements into an existing label format requested by retailers. Packers confronted with multiple labeling content requirements and even multiple label formats will quickly face more complications. Requests for different types of cartons (i.e. RPCs or wax sided, or different sizes of packing units) further complicate the labeling process for plant packers.
And then there’s the label. All it has to do is stick to either rough wood, a waxy surface, Styrofoam, or a plastic hairbrush like surface in hot, dirty, windy, wet, icy, humid conditions and potentially stand up to highway transportation on flat bed trucks. And with the kind of adhesives necessary to do that, it also has to run smoothly through a thermal/thermal transfer printer without jamming, pre-dispensing in the printer or gumming up the printer. We have created Adhesive Guard ™, a patent pending process that reduces the adhesive ooze resulting in labels that will run through your printer cleaner with less jamming and less downtime.
PTI Labels for Reusable Plastic Cartons (RPCs)
RPCs (reusable plastic containers) are increasing in use at the expense of wax sided cartons. They represent about 10% of the packing cartons now used and are expected to increase significantly in the next few years. Typically the choice is driven by retailers requiring them for their shipments. The three largest supermarket chains now require their use and it is expected many more retailers will follow. RPCs are the standard packing container for produce in Europe. There are a number of reasons to use RPCs instead of wax-sided corrugate cartons:
A. No corrugate disposal;
B. Significant reduction of damage to produce in storage and transportation;
C. Easy and safe stacking;
D. Open sides and base mean faster cooling and better freshness in storage and transportation;
E. Hygienically perfect container (sterilized after every use).
While there are a number of advantages in using RPCs, they do present challenges for labeling. RPCs have a difficult irregular surface to which the label must be applied. It’s been described as “putting a label on a hair brush.” Not all RPCs are used in the same processing environment.
In some instances such as lettuce, produce is field packed and the RPCs are labeled by hand, typically in a hot, arid environment, while other field packed produce may be packed in a hot, humid environment.
In other instances such as meat or apples, product is shed or plant packed in a cold and higher humidity environment. Most people think that the same label would work, but then again, while you would wear a parka in a cold packing plant, you wouldn’t wear the parka outside picking and packing lettuce! Contact Pointil Systems…we have the right RPC label for you.
Then it must withstand air turbulence during transit from the field to the cooler/plant via open flat bed trucks, remain affixed during the cooling process (water /ice drenching), and hold up to the 100% 34F cooler conditions. Finally, when the used RPC is returned for sterilizing, the label and adhesive would ideally remove cleanly without leaving any adhesive residue which can serve as a culture for bacterial growth.
For years, Pointil Systems has provided bar coded labels as well as RFID labels that meet these challenges.
PTI Labels for Wood Crates
Wooden crates, used to pack corn and other produce, are saturated in water to help keep contents from drying out. That’s good news for the corn and challenging news for the label that gets applied to the crate. Obviously a special highly aggressive adhesive that sticks to water (think hydroplaning) and/or wood is necessary. Unfortunately aggressive adhesives tend to ooze out. Such oozing causes problems if the labels are printed in thermal transfer printers. Pointil has a specially designed label for wooden crates that performs perfectly in thermal transfer printers without adhesive ooze and sticks to saturated wooden crates! Contact us for solutions that work!
PTI Labels for Wax Sided and/or UV Coated Cartons
Labeling wax sided cartons or UV coated cartons is challenging because the wax and the UV coating is slick. It is a little like removing a label from the backing paper and trying to put it back on the backing paper but now expecting it to permanently stick! Other conditions add to the challenge. If the cartons are labeled in the field and driven on a flat bed truck back to the shed they are exposed to high wind shear on the highway. If the cartons go through a hydro cooler process the cartons, the label, and the adhesive get wet. Some adhesives will not stand up to prolonged wetness. If the cartons are exposed to prolonged high humidity in storage there might be a tendency to curl up. Put all this together on a slick surface and you have a challenge.
The obvious choice is a label with a really aggressive adhesive, but you may need to rethink that choice. If the adhesive is too aggressive, it might ooze, causing problems in your printer. Sound complicated? Contact us, we have a solution that has worked for 20 years in field and shed pack applications.
PTI Labels for Styrofoam
Labeling Styrofoam requires a different adhesive than that used on RPCs, wood crates, or wax sided cartons. Additionally, typical applications requiring Styrofoam containers utilize different cooling processes (some high velocity cold air) than cooling processes used with produce in RPCs, wood crates, or wax sided cartons. High initial tack adhesives are required and these adhesives characteristically have high ooze issues. We have created Adhesive Guard ™, a patent pending process that reduces the adhesive ooze resulting in labels that will run through your printer cleaner with less jamming and less downtime.
BIN TAGS & LABELS
Bulk bins, both wooden and plastic, have historically been provided by packing plants to growers in order to transport the grower’s crop to the shed for packing. In order to maintain produce traceability the contents of these bulk containers must be identifiable from the point of harvest through the packing shed process. Once the produce is packed into cartons and labeled with a PTI label, PTI tracking can be used going forward.
Pointil Systems has developed both labels and tags for this application. Our labels stick to both the wooden and plastic bins and remain adhered through the transportation process. Tags that withstand water drenching and wind shear during highway transportation.
In many bin applications such as apples, pears or mandarin oranges, harvests are seasonal. Printing tags or labels “in house” becomes more complicated than normal since the process is only done once a year. Typically there is a scramble to remember how to do it while getting them printed and stapled into books before the harvest actually starts. At such a period, printing bin tags isn’t exactly a high priority. We provide both colored coded thermal and thermal transfer tags for printing those tags.
Better yet, we also provide preprinted tags with all the data supplied by the grower. We then provide the grower the data file (sorted in a format that works best for them) along with the tags. The preprinted tags (both color coded and bar coded) arrive presorted by varietal, grower, and orchard/field and stapled into books. Simply hand them out, staple them onto the bins, and you are ready to track. In many instances this costs little or no more than the blank tags and the grower saves all the labor and headaches trying to print the tags themselves.
One of the reasons the US is the leading grower of fruits and vegetables is because the industry has maximized opportunities to automate an otherwise manual intensive industry.
Many fruits and vegetables harvested and packed in the field are loaded into recyclable plastic cartons (RPCs) or wax-coated cartons and placed onto pallets. Employees harvesting the crops wear gloves or have dirty hands. They must affix a bar code label to the RPC or wax-coated carton which frequency gets dirty, without the label sticking to their glove. Further the RPC or wax-coated carton resists label adhesion. Pallets are loaded onto flatbed trailers and taken from the fields to the processing plants. Palletized product is subjected to hydro washers, vacuum washers, and/or ice injection before being placed into a cold, damp warehouse after this process. Typically warehouse temperatures are maintained at 34 to 35F. Product may be shipped in less than full pallet units. Shipment quantity can vary greatly. The process of harvesting and shipping is normally complete in 3 days or less.
The label must not stick to the workers gloves, but affix immediately to the irregular surface of the RPC or the slick, waxy surface of a carton, stay affixed through the air turbulence of highway speed transport to the processing plants, and withstand significant water exposure and cold temperatures. In some instances high turbulence wind cooling is performed to chill product and the label must withstand this as well.
A synthetic facestock with a super aggressive, high initial tack adhesive is utilized. The label is typically bar coded and over varnished. A large “x” dimension bar code is utilized to allow scanning from up to 20 feet. Code 128C is typically used to minimize the bar code size required.
Frequently, labels are piggyback or have seated sub labels. The sub labels all have the same pallet bar code number. As less-than-full pallet orders are picked, a sub label is removed and affixed to the withdrawn units to enable tracking and auditing of the picked order.
Optionally, double numbered labels are used to wrap around the pallet corner. This allows warehouse personnel to load the pallet into racks from either side with the bar code still visible for scanning.
Pointil Systems makes a variety of agricultural pallet labels including pre bar coded and RFID labels for both wax sided cartons and RPCs. They can be in “set” type formats (either piggyback or hanging), single number formats, or corner wrap formats.
ITEM LEVEL TRACEABILITY LABELS
Item level traceability is a critical element in a thorough food safety program. Even with thorough adherence to best practices, a product recall can still be necessary. The FDA requires a 24 hour response. Despite complete adherence to best practices, the need for a product recall can still occur. The ability to quickly identify and isolate each raw material used (e.g., fertilizer, ingredients, etc.) and having the ability to track/trace across all product processes (i.e. batching, blending, packaging, etc.) is critical to issuing an appropriate recall and minimizing the cost and potential brand damage.
PTI provides supply chain traceability from the field to the retail store. It only addresses pallet and carton level traceability. Once product is unpacked at the retail store, the PTI traceability chain is broken as PTI does not provide for the identification of retail units purchased by consumers. As a result, PTI provides no means for consumers to identify their purchases as those on recall or not. In addition to the obvious food safety need for item level traceability, there are other sound business reasons for implementing such a system. Worker accountability and consumer feedback could provide a significant return on investment.
Item level traceability, or unique item identification, extends food safety to the consumer level, by providing a unique traceable number on each retail unit. While not yet an industry initiative or law, item level traceability is being embraced by a number of key retailers and growers.
Through the use of smart cellular phones, consumers can now “hard link” the 2D bar code information on the package to a website which will inform them if that unit of product is on recall. This is done by taking a “picture” of the special 2D barcode on the product. With the appropriate phone “app”, the special 2D barcode data will link to the website and convey the information to the consumer.
Our efficient high speed in line process is designed for high volume printing of such special 2D bar codes and doesn’t require secondary off line printing. We can print over 25 million 2D codes a day. We can print in a variety of 2D sizes for short/long range scanning and in a variety of symbologies (DataMatrix, QR Code, and PDF417). We are HarvestMark qualified as a source for the Item Level Traceability Programs.
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