The Science Behind the QR Code

Traceability in the bakery supply chain helps account for the entire genealogy, life and processing of the grain through to the bread that has reached the consumer’s table. Safety is in the details.

The weight of the data behind the croissant served in a café can reflect the entire succession of stages in its transformation, from the development of the wheat grains up to the moment it is served. Traceability covering the grain supply chain can mean being able to track the grain that was used, even including information about the field where it was cultivated, down to the origin of the seeds, and then the processes it goes through. This is how quality at all stages of the supply chain can be ensured, Stuart Bashford, digital officer at Bühler, illustrated in an interview.

It is a complex set of data that may seem overwhelming; gathering information and monitoring process stages can mean different things, depending on the goals set. There is no one size fits all answer to the level of detail in the data, but it is possible to track the supply chain with simplistic date-time stamped data, which can be augmented with process data to reflect quality parameters or process steps carried out.

“What Gets Measured, Gets Managed”

“At the simple end of the scale, you would want to have a timestamp and location information (which could be manually entered, or GPS-based) for each step along the supply chain. In this way, you could track the flow along the supply chain with location and time. It could also be interesting to monitor some environmental parameters, for example, humidity and temperature for long storage or travel periods,” Bashford adds. The specialist from Bühler quotes Peter Drucker, whose writing helped set the foundation of modern business: “What gets measured, gets managed”. Initially referring to employee performance, the concept perfectly applies to IoT, Bashford tells us: “If you have the data, and you are aware of the relevant quality parameters throughout each stage of the supply chain, then, you can start to make more informed decisions – data-driven decisions.”

Smart solutions provide the tools that enable accurate traceability from field to fork, combining package tracking (think QR codes) with actual product tracing. “You also need a software platform solution to be able to store and retrieve and visualize the data in a digestible format,” Bashford highlights. Implementing smart solutions to comprehensively track products through the supply chain entails balancing substantial amounts of data. The biggest challenge here, in Bühler’s expertise, is in bringing it all together in a cohesive offering. In the process of tracking grains throughout the supply chain, each node in its structure should benefit from using such a platform. “The biggest challenge is not technical, it is the incumbent systems already in place, and coming up with an ethical approach to providing this service, that provides benefits to the whole supply chain, from seed grower to consumer, while satisfying all stakeholders that only the right data is shared to the network,” Bashford explains.

Transparent Baking

Detailed tracking of food, with data collected every time it exchanges hands and during processing is the way to prevent and quickly manage any potential damage. Ensuring food safety in real-time is an invaluable asset. “Product recalls are a big issue for organizations throughout the supply chain. Bühler has technology (Mercury MES system) that can provide a traceability function to track exactly where the grain has traveled through the process lines,” the specialist says. This fills in the gap during processing, where many different batches of wheat could be mixed to make the flour (which then goes on to be further processed). Looking ahead, traceability platforms provide multiple opportunities to benefit the manufacture of baked goods. “Being able to provide the carbon footprint of a particular product (not just that batch, or product range, but that individual item) is something that will be coming to provide consumers with more visibility and allow them to make more informed choices,” Bashford (Bühler) anticipates.

You can read the rest of this article in the July-August Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here.

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