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Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

Traceability of food products: General framework and

experimental evidence
A. Regattieri *, M. Gamberi, R. Manzini
Department of Industrial and Mechanical Plants, University of Bologna, Viale Risorgimento, 2 40136 Bologna, Italy
Received 8 February 2005; received in revised form 16 October 2006; accepted 19 October 2006
Available online 8 January 2007

Traceability is becoming a method of providing safer food supplies and of connecting producers and consumers. Recent diseases such
as bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) and the questions concerning genetically modied organism (GMO) mean systems that enable
control of each link in the food chain have become particularly relevant. Furthermore, although EU law no. 178 came into eect on the
1st January 2005, at the time of writing the regulatory situation is very confused.
The aim of this paper is to analyze legal and regulatory aspects of food traceability, and to provide a general framework for the identication of fundamental mainstays and functionalities in an eective traceability system.
Possible technical resources were claried by analyzing assessment criteria obtained from studies of alphanumerical codes, bar codes,
and radio frequency identication (RFID).
Finally, the paper presents the traceability system used by Parmigiano Reggiano (the famous Italian cheese) which was developed
using the proposed general framework. Based on an integration of alphanumerical codes and RFID technology, the system is working
well with very good results for both cheese producers and consumers.
Some interesting observations concerning development trends and traceability system costs close the paper.
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Food traceability; Framework; Bar code; RFID; Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Introduction
According to Websters Dictionary, Traceability is the
ability to follow or study out in detail, or step by step, the
history of a certain activity or a process.
Thus traceability can be dened as the history of a
product in terms of the direct properties of that product
and/or properties that are associated with that product
once these products have been subject to particular
value-adding processes using associated production means
and in associated environmental conditions. The information concerning relationships at origin may be used
upstream in the supply chain (e.g., in the ordering process
to dene the requirements of an ordered product), or

Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 0512093400; fax: +39 0512093411.

E-mail address: (A. Regattieri).

0260-8774/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

downstream (e.g., in delivery processes to specify the characteristics of products). Additionally, the information can
be used for reporting purposes, either in the supply chain
or for third parties.
A targeted and more rigorous denition of food supply
chain was provided by the International Organization for
Standardization in 1994 (ISO standard 8402:1994) and supported by EC regulation 178/2002 (European Parliament,
2002). This denes Traceability as the ability to trace
and follow a food, feed, food producing animal or ingredients, through all stages of production and distribution.
Traceability is a concept relating to all products and all
types of supply chain. Nowadays, in an economic system in
which companies compete against each other in an environment largely founded on customer satisfaction, traceability is an indispensable instrument in obtaining the
market consensus. Direct benets are supply chain


A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

optimization, product safety, and market advantages (marketing advantages/competitive business advantages).
An ecient and eective system transmitting accurate,
timely, complete, and consistent information about products through the supply chain can signicantly reduce operating costs and can increase productivity. At the same time,
such a system contains many product safety elements: it
makes consumers safer by providing detailed information
about where an item comes from, what its components
and origin are, and about its processing history.
Evidently this last point of view provides market leverage that companies can exploit to gain business advantages
over competitors.
In particular, product safety is the fundamental factor in
the food sector that is making traceability relevant as
recent studies on food safety show that approximately
seven million people a year are aected by food borne illness (Sarig, 2003).
There have been many recent scares but the crisis in the
meat industry caused by bovine spongiform encephalitis
(BSE) has underlined the absolute importance of food
Only with an ecient tracing system is it possible to
have a prospective product recall (for safety), and eective
research into what caused the problems.
These concepts were reinforced by the EU through The
European White Paper on Food Safety (European Commission, 2000) and by the FAO in The Bangkok Declaration and Strategy on Aquaculture Development (NACA/
FAO, 2000).
An important related question deals with genetically
modied organism (GMO). Genetic modication is being
applied to develop new and benecial characteristics such
as increased shelf life or greater resistance to pests
(GMAC, 2002). However, little is known about the longterm health and environmental eects of GMO. There
was no real international agreement on either the principles
of GMO or the testing methods and thus safety evaluation
(WHO, 2002). As a result, customers require suitable information showing whether or not a product contains GMO
components, which can only be guaranteed by an ecient
trackingtracing system.
Unfortunately, there is currently no general legal
requirement for the establishment of traceability systems
in food chains. The only mandatory traceability system
currently enforced throughout a complete food chain
enables beef on sale within the EU to be traced back to
where it originated.
So in a context where traceability is basically voluntary,
a small number of pioneer companies are developing their
own systems, but they lack standards, are very dierentiated, and are producing dierent economic results.
Although traceability is a useful tool it is also expensive,
so before using it evaluation of its economic impact is absolutely necessary.
Information Technology (IT) in the form of radio frequency identication (RFID) is a resource that can be very

usefully applied in overcoming the problems associated

with traditional solutions (alphanumerical codes and bar
code labels).
The aim of this paper is to clarify the legal and regulatory aspects of food traceability, and to present a framework for a traceability system with particular reference to
analyzing dierent technical resources (alphanumerical
codes, bar code labels, and RFID).
Lastly, the results of a project based on RFID technology are presented, which focuses on the traceability system
developed for the famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
The next section presents the legal scenario at the time
of writing aecting traceability, and the fundamental decisions and resolutions taken by relevant world organizations (ONU, FAO, EU).
Section 3 provides a brief review of the literature concerning traceability from both a general and a food processing sector point of view. Section 4 presents the
characteristics, properties, and modern technical solutions
for an eective traceability system, from which a general
framework is formulated. Following this, a technical and
economic evaluation of the Parmigiano Reggiano traceability project is illustrated in the fth section.
The nal section deals with future developments and
problems yet to be solved, after which lastly, the conclusions are presented.
2. Food tracing: legal and regulatory aspects
The above-mentioned absence of specic legal requirements concerning product traceability in food supply chain
must be the fundamental starting point of any review: the
situation is in disorder and so it is dicult to nd any
In 1985 a UN General Assembly resolution gave rise to
the Guidelines for consumer protection, which were published in 1986. These guidelines identify food as one of
three priority areas of essential concern to consumer
health. The Codex Alimentarius (Food & agriculture organization of the United Nations, 1999) evolved from these
UN guidelines as these were selected as the reference point
for the FAO Codex Alimentarius guidelines regarding
food. While this codex also deals with quality issues, it
reects an emphasis on ensuring that consumers receive
products that are safe and do not pose a threat to health.
The United States Department of Agriculture published
Traceability for Food Marketing and Food Safety:
Whats the Next Step (2002). The paper set out the case
for voluntary traceability within the food industry, and
then argues that government should ensure that the private
sector meets performance targets for food safety, but there
are no prescriptions and only suggestions on how this goal
should be achieved.
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) of the US Commerce Department developed the
NIST Policy on Traceability, which presents the denition
of measurement traceability used by NIST, and claries the

A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

roles of NIST and others in achieving results using their

measure of traceability. Thus, the primary role of NIST
is to assist its customers in establishing the measurement
system of traceability and to assess the claims of traceability made by others, but in this case too, no proposals are
In 2002 EU General Food Law Regulation stated that a
broad nondescriptive traceability requirement would be
introduced from 1st January 2005 (European Parliament,
2002). In addition to a proposed EU regulation, several
countries have introduced their own traceabilty regulations. For example, in Italy the Italian Standards Institute
(UNI) has enacted specic legislative measures. Two specic standards have been issued: UNI 10939 Traceability
system in agricultural food chain General principles for
design and development in April 2001, and UNI 11020
Traceability system in agri-food industries Principles
and requirements for development in December 2002
(Italian Standards Institute, 2001, 2002).
Other legislative acts have been introduced in several
European countries, such as France, Spain and Greece,
but they primarily relate to quality issues rather than food
safety. Their certication only implies classication of the
product and communication of objective advantages (specications such as maturity for harvesting, sugar level, etc.).
In conclusion, the situation concerning food traceability
is mixed and confused, a new EU regulation has been issued
(1st January 2005) but neither in this document nor in other
previously published documents are there any precise
requirements that help actors in the supply chain.
In this context several food manufacturers, retailers, and
food service companies have already established or are
establishing traceability arrangements, with the primary
aim of reducing business risk.
3. Review of the literature
The legal and regulatory scenario does not help companies to manage product traceability. However, in recent
years several signicant contributions to traceability have
been made. The rst signicant contribution dates back
to the 1970s. Pugh (1973) established the fundamental principles of product traceability.
In recent years Borst, Akkermans, and Top (1997), and
then Gordijn and Akkermans (2001), studied the global
impact and the ontological requirements of a traceability
system. The relevance of product tracing in both the external supply chain and inside the production system is underlined by Stein (1990) and by Ramesh et al. (1995).
Traceability helps product recall, an aspect fully explored
by Abbott (1991).
Several authors (Kim, Fox, & Gruninger, 1995; Moe,
1998) do not trace the product, but apply a dedicated
unit called traceable resource unit TRU. This perspective
is helpful when product characteristics (dimensions,
numerousness, condition of surfaces, etc.) are particularly


Several authors, such as Sahin, Dallery, and Gershwin

(2002) as well as Morissey and Almonacid (2005), consider
Information Technology (IT) to be the fundamental milestone that could revolutionize product traceability.
The above mentioned research deals with the general
idea of traceability whereas in practice the fundamental
instruments are labels, bar-codes, and automatic radio frequency identication (RFID).
The design of the label system and several applications
are studied by Jansen-Vullers, Wortmann, and Beulens
At the time or writing bar codes seems to be the most
frequently used system: Cheng and Simmons (1994), Steele
(1995), and Toyryla (1999) present applications of this
solution. Sahin et al. (2002) discuss bar code problems
and the possibility of using RFID systems to trace products
along supply chain.
Specic scientic literature for the food sector does not
exist. The European Article Numbering (EAN, 2001) have
published generic guidelines for fresh product traceability,
which therefore form a general reference. In contrast, the
advantages of and the particular requirements for traceability in food supply chains were formalized by Moe
(1998) as well as Trienekens and Beulens (2001). Furthermore, Miotrag (2001) investigates the impact of technology
(radio frequency identication) for food tracing.
From the application point of view the literature presents several interesting studies focused on the sh sector.
Frederiksen, Osterberg, Silberg, Larsen, and Bremmer
(2002) presents research dealing with a traceability system
for fresh sh supply chains in the Danish domestic market. Experimental evidence derived from this system is
presented by Borresen (2003). Similar systems are
designed in the USA (Thompson, Sylvia, & Morrissey,
In conclusion, the scientic literature concerning product traceability is focused on general factors such as instruments and potential advantages. Elsewhere, several specic
applications are presented directly.
The situation is similar in the literature concerning food
processing as researches present studies of general guidelines or single applications.
A systematic and operative study (with direct industrial
applicability) is not present.
One aim of this paper is to design a framework for the
traceability of food that schematizes all factors that impact
on the traceability problem. This framework must form the
starting and reference point for the design phase of a food
supply chain.
4. Food traceability framework
A product traceability system, and particularly a food
traceability system, is fundamentally based on 4 pillars:
product identication, data to trace, product routing, and
traceability tools. Fig. 1 reports a general framework for
product traceability system and stresses this concept.


A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356










Production cycle

compatibility vs product




compatibility vs process


degree of detail

lead times

N of data readings

surface conditions



N of data writings
degree of automation



data storage requirements

manual operations


confidentiality & pubblicity

automatic operations

data accuracy

movement systems

data reliability

storage systems

companys knowledge


checks & alarms

life cycle length

cost of system

bill of material structure

Fig. 1. Framework for product traceability.

The step of product identication is fundamental, with

physical characteristics such as volume, weight, dimensions, and packaging having a direct impact. Other classes
of information required deal with mechanical properties
(shortness, condition of surfaces) and length of the life
The bill of material (BOM) structure, that is to say, the
number of parts the product is made from, can condition
the tracing system. A large number of small traced components in the nished product results in dierent problems
compared to a single traced raw material that is divided
into several traced sub-components.
The second fundamental pillar concerns the data to
trace. The characteristics of the information that the system must manage, for example related to kind (digits,
strings, ranges, etc.) and number, or the condentiality levels are absolutely relevant to correct design.

In recent years constant checks and automatic alarms

have become essential requirements, especially for food.
A product traceability system must take the production
process into account, so the third pillar is product routing.
The system must record product life along the supply
chain, then through both production activities and movement or storage activities.
Clearly, product lead times, equipment required, the
degree of process automation, and other process information all have a direct impact on traceability.
In practice, dierent technical solutions can be used in a
traceability system (alphanumerical code, bar code, or
RFID). Final choice must consider the degree of
compatibility with the product and the production process,
the degree of automation supported by the supply chain
analyzed, and in general knowledge along the supplyproduction channel.

A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

The data accuracy and reliability required can guide the

selection of the traceability tool. Obviously, cost is a relevant factor and so must also be taken into account.
Fig. 1 shows a particularly complete framework for
product traceability. Even though each product has dierent characteristics, a traceability system can be derived
from general framework for a product by using a process
of simplication. For example, not all products have the
perishability problem.
Food products are very critical, and their traceability
system must be particularly complete: in this case the entire
framework in Fig. 1 represents an ecient system and a
very signicant reference.

5. Technical instruments for traceability

A product traceability system requires the identication
of all the physical entities (and locations) from which the
product originates, that is to say, where it is processed,
packaged, and stocked, and so this includes every agent
in the supply chain.
Nowadays technical and operative resources available
are fundamentally alphanumerical code, bar code, and
radio-frequency identication (RFID).
Alphanumerical codes are a sequence of numbers and
letters of various sizes placed on labels, which in turn are
placed on product or on its packaging. Clearly, in the food
sector the latter of these two practice is the most suitable.
The design phase of this system is very simple and economic, but its management requires signicant human
resources (and so costs) because code writing and code
reading are not automatic. Furthermore, performance is
not particularly good: there are many problem associated
with the large amount of managed manually data. The risk
of data integrity corruption is very high.
No standards are dened for alphanumerical codes, and
they are generally owners codes, so there is a unique and
not general tie between the dierent actors (raw material
suppliers, manufacturers and distributors) in the supply
chain analyzed.
The European Article Numbering (EAN) association
has made some eort towards standardization by introducing several codes: the best known is the EAN/UCC Global
Location Numbers (GLN) in the EAN/UCC-13 version.
Today, alphanumerical codes are not frequently used
because bar codes oer several signicant advantages.
In eect, the introduction of bar coding has modied
handling of all materials along the supply chain and moreover particularly aects the traceability question.
The automation, the high speed, the great precision (it is
a practically error free system) guaranteed by a bar code
structure permits simpler, more economical, and exact
traceability systems.
At the time of writing more and more industries, especially in the retail sector, use bar codes as a principal means
of identifying items.


Various applications of industrial product traceability

(non food) that still work well are based on this technology. With regard to food, traceability is less advanced
and there are only a few spot applications such as the case
of Anecoop in Spain (Vilanova, 2001).
In a bar code system, each time items are moved from
one point to another, their bar code labels must be so positioned that they can be detected and identied by the
reader. This characteristic, often called line of sight positioning requirement, requires human intervention (thus
time and eort) for the scanning process and so there is
room for error and ineciency.
Besides the physical support provided by a label, it usually has generous dimensions and is easily damaged (optical damage is sucient).
As a result, bar codes are less attractive to the food sector, and their application is consequently limited.
In addition to bar code technology, there is radio frequency identication RFID system. RFID is an identication tool using wireless microchips to create tags that
do not need physical contact or particular alignment
with the reader. The reading phase is very fast and fully
RFID tags are very small (a few millimeters reading
distance) and they have no compatibility problem with
foods. The TAG is an isolated system, their materials
are aseptic and food compatible. The link between
TAG and product is very easy: for solid goods gluing
system is very eective (glues are absolutely neutrals);
for liquids TAG is usually connected to storage or package system.
The radio wave used for communication between TAGs
and traceability database use very little power, so electromagnetic interaction is practically non-existent. Latest
technology at the time of writing has a good data transfer
rate, even when a great deal of electromagnetic interference
aects the ferromagnetic eld.
In general an RFID system results in the following
(Sahin et al., 2002):
 A reduction in labor cost. RFID simplies handling and
storage processes, particularly as no manual scanning
and checking operations are required.
 An acceleration of physical ows. As an RFID reader
can scan numerous tags at the same time, identication
is very simple and rapid.
 A reduction in prot losses. The University of Florida
concluded that nearly 2% of total sales in United
States is lost each year due to shrinkage employee
and customer theft, vendor fraud, and administrative
 More ecient control of supply chain in terms of
improving control of the stock situation, and production
 Improved knowledge of customer behavior. This knowledge has great importance especially for new products or
items in a promotion for which it is not only important


A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

to check whether or not they are selling, but also to

know whether or not they are being taken away but
not bought by consumers.
With specic reference to the food sector, RFID is a very
promising system because it also results in:
 Improved management of perishable items. The continuous monitoring of item routing reduces waste and
improves customer service levels.
 Improved tracking and tracing of quality problems. In
using individual product codes, RFID systems are providing means to identify and nd only defective product,
and so help react to any quality problem.
 Improved management of product recalls. The ability to
trace product routings can secure ecient recall procedures and help producers and distributors to minimize
However, some RFID properties limit traceability systems. The main problem relates to tag cost. A tag costs
between 0.5 and 20 , whereas the bar code is a low-cost
system, so RFID is more expensive and can represent a signicant handicap for product nal price, particularly for
low-price products (e.g. fruit, vegetables, pasta, milk, etc.).
In addition to this problem, there are some operational
questions producing minor diculties: lack of standardized
RFID protocols (the best and most used are: ISO 13 MHz
and EAN/UCC GTAG) and scanning problems due to
interference under particular electromagnetic conditions.
In conclusion, at the time of writing the best technical
instruments to use for a product traceability system are
bar codes and RFID systems. In particular, RFID presents
very favorable properties for the food sector, but the tag
cost remains a problem.
6. The Parmigiano Reggiano traceability system
Parmigiano Reggiano is the famous Italian cheese well
known throughout the world for its incomparable taste.
It is a hard, processed, semi-fat cheese, and seasoned using
a complete aging process lasting around 20 months.
A whole cheese of Parmigiano Reggiano is almost cylindrical (4045 cm in diameter, 22-24 cm in height) and has a
mass about 3335 kg. The current Italian production of
this cheese is approximately 100,000 tons/year. In recent
decades there have been several attempts to imitate it, so
in 2003 the EU had to intervene in order to protect this
Fundamentally for a brand protection reason, during
2001 and 2002 producers started confronting traceability
but with a very low-prole.
A very simple traceability system resulted (managed in
collaboration with CFPR Consorzio di Tutela del Parmigiano Reggiano). It is based on manual collection of data,
with several problems due to the relevant amount of information to be traced (however, this does not compare with

much larger amount of information the new system traces)

and due to the signicant presence of manual work.
The problem of protection and the new European regulation starting from 1st January 2005 have generated a
strong need for a very eective traceability system: the previous manual system did not work well enough. So a
project to develop systematic traceability was set up and
sponsored by CFPR (Consorzio di Tutela del Parmigiano
Reggiano). The fundamental starting point of this ambitious project was the framework shown in Fig. 1. Its application resulted in a quick and eective denition of the
properties, constraints, and tools of the system.
Several actors are involved in the Parmigiano Reggiano
supply chain: the fundamental raw material is bovine milk
(from a bovine farm), and after milking this milk is processed in a dairy where the whole cheese is made.
The whole cheese is transported into a particular warehouse (usually not near the dairy) where it is left to season
for a minimum of 12 months and normally for 20 months.
CFPR experts check the whole cheese during this period, and if it passes the test the cheese is branded with
the famous symbol after which it is ocially Parmigiano
Reggiano. When the seasoning is complete the whole
cheese is transferred to the last actor in the chain, the packaging factory. The whole cheese (3335 kg) is divided into
portions (0.82 kg), individually wrapped in cellophane,
and sent to market.
The rst step in the proposed innovative framework is
the identication of characteristics of product in its dierent aspects along the entire supply chain, in this case from
the bovine farm, the dairy, the seasoning warehouse, and
lastly to the packaging factory.
A relevant aspect in this particular supply chain is the
dierence between the form of raw materials and nal
product. In fact, the fundamental raw material comes in
liquid form (milk), while the bovine farm manages cows
and fodder, the nal result is a cheese form.
The second fundamental pillar in designing a traceability system eectively is to determine which data to trace.
For example, information from bovine farms is absolutely
essential, that is, the cows and their nutrition, control
plans, and the milk test developed. The system in the dairy
must trace the link between milk and cooking boiler, the
production date, and the production parameters (temperature, humidity, etc.). The input date, the internal handling
(a whole of cheese is checked, brushed, and overturned several times) and the output date are fundamental milestones
in the aging warehouse and required by the traceability system. A lot of other information is also worth tracing, and
so is traced in the developed system. In conclusion, only
the links between the parts and the whole permits the complete tracking of the nal product.
Technically the system developed is based on a central
database that collects data from bovine farms and from
dairies. Part of the relevant information is collected automatically (such as cooking boiler temperature, humidity,
fodder batch code) using sensors, PLCs, and bar codes,

A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

while others are collected with manual data entry (cow

code, inspection results). The batch concept is followed
when the raw material is liquid. In particular, the most
important batch regards the milk: a single batch produces
one individual round of cheese. As all material are traced,
the degree of traceability is 100%.
Immediately after production in the diary and until the
portioning phase, all information are traced by a TAG
applied to a whole cheese. The TAG is rstly drowned
between two casein plates, and then this biscuit is tied
to the whole cheese. Fig. 2 shows the TAG used and a
tagged whole of Parmigiano Reggiano.
All the information regarding the raw materials and the
conditions of production regarding the whole cheese can be
automatically downloaded from the TAG.
This operation is carried out very quickly and eectively
using portable terminals (Fig. 3).
A simple reading of the TAG provides the complete history of product at any time. While checking the state of
TAG (level of recorded information) provides an eective
check of the progress made in the production of the whole
The TAG is removed prior to the portioning phase and
read automatically: the information is recorded in a database. Each portion derived from the whole is wrapped in
individual cellophane packaging. An alphanumerical code
is marked on the packaging on which the record in the
database that contains all the information gathered about
the portion and the original whole of cheese is identied.
By using this code all the supply chain information can
be retrieved at any time, both by the manufacturer and by
the consumer.
Fig. 4 shows the technical structure of the traceability
system following the proposed general framework. The
database is a typical Oracle DBMS.
At present the new traceability system is up and running,
and all customers can easily check the history of the portion they have bought by logging onto the Internet and
inputting this alphanumerical code on a dedicated web site.


Fig. 3. Portable terminal for TAG recording/reading (Psion Mx).

Furthermore, the system traces data reserved specically

for manufacturers in a dedicated section of each record.
Introducing this traceability system has several advantages, but obviously requires investment in hardware (TAG
chips, terminals, databases, new packaging with code,
etc.) and new working procedures (reading/writing TAGs,
deposition and removing chips, etc.).
Therefore, calculation of the nancial implications is
absolutely necessary.
Table 1 shows the nal report of the nancial plan developed for the traceability system. New costs (depreciation
and running costs) are allocated along the whole supply
The dierential costs for introducing the traceability system developed are concentrated in the farms-dairy pairing.
In eect, TAG deposition and a good deal of the data writing phase are carried out in the two initial steps in the
The market price of Parmigiano Reggiano is 1516 /kg,
and introducing a traceability system costs 0.07 /kg,
approximately representing a 0.5% increase in cost. In this

Fig. 2. TAG and tagged whole of cheese.


A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

Bovine farm


Tagged cheese whole


Seasoning warehouse
branded and aged cheese whole

Packaging factory

(with code)

portioned cheese

automatic data entry

manual data entry
Fig. 4. Parmigiano Reggiano supply chain.

of the portion they have bought by simply logging on to

and reading all the information on an Internet site.

Table 1
Final nancial report of dierential costs for traceability system

Cost of whole
cheese (/pz)
Cost per
kilogram (/kg)a

Bovine farm
and dairy












7. Further developments

Standard whole weight = 35 kg.

case traceability introduces a tolerable cost which the market can support.
It is worth stressing that this marginal increase in cost is
fundamentally due to two reasons: the high price of Parmigiano Reggiano and the link between TAG and whole
Parmigiano Reggiano is a very expensive cheese and
there is only one TAG for each whole cheese. So in spite
of the high TAG cost, its impact is irrelevant.
In contrast, when a low-priced product requires an individual TAG (for example a box of pasta) the situation is
very dierent.
In conclusion, the complete supply chain of Parmigiano
Reggiano is traced by an RFID system integrating with an
alphanumerical code. Manufacturers can check the progress made in production at any time and if there are any
problems in the market place they can re-trace the development of the portion and introduce eective re-call strategies. Customers are guaranteed to nd appropriate
knowledge concerning the origins and production process

Compulsory regulation of traceability is very recent and

not particularly clear. For example, European law does not
clarify the system of sanctions for defaulting parties. Furthermore, the traceability question is in continuous development. The framework designed and presented in this
article represents a signicant and reliable reference.
Nevertheless, there are clearly two fundamental lines of
development: the need for standardization and the cost of
There is a great lack of standardization for all technical
systems at the present time (numerical, or bar codes and
TAGs). Each actor in the supply chain develops a proprietary solution that introduces tremendous compatibility
problems with the other actors, which then lacks eectiveness and increases costs.
This question of standardizing the processing of information not only deals with its structure (codes, syntaxes,
etc.) but also with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange).
As a result, it is to be hoped that a global standard will
be introduced, and appreciable steps in this direction have
been taken with EAN (European Article Numbering)
activities for bar codes and EPC global (Electronic Product
Code) for RFID.
The second line of development must be the reduction of
the TAG cost. The RFID system has proved itself to be an

A. Regattieri et al. / Journal of Food Engineering 81 (2007) 347356

excellent resource and a very eective system of

But TAG cost represents a signicant limiting factor. In
eect, at the time of writing only products with high added
value (apparel, health, etc.) are able to absorb the impact of
TAG cost. Consequently, application of RFID in the food
sector remains limited.
The cost of TAG has decreased signicantly in recent
years, and TAG cost will probably be suciently competitive within only a few months for widespread introduction
in products. The threshold value appears to be 6-8 Euro
cents for each TAG. Once TAG cost reaches these prices,
food traceability using RFID will be very attractive: a single TAG on the packaging or a single TAG directly on the
product (obviously applied to parts later discarded) represents a very eective solution.


only be adopted by the food processing industry for high

value products (famous cheeses, wines, etc.).
Nevertheless, the reduction of TAG costs will produce
widespread diusion of RFID systems in food.
Moreover, although usually created for safety reasons, a
food traceability system presents manufacturers with an
opportunity as the design and management of a traceability
system improves process control, indicates cause and eect
when the product fails to conform to standard, improves
planning so that raw material use is optimized, and
improves grounds for implementing IT solutions to control
and manage production.
As a result, food processing companies do not need to
consider traceability as an economic burden but can view
it as an opportunity for system growth.

8. Conclusions
The increasing demand from the nal consumer for
healthy safe food sets exacting requirements for a well
structured traceability system. This phenomena is accompanied by a growing body of international regulation;
including EU directive no. 178/2002 which has been in
force since 1 January 2005.
However, at the time of writing the situation is confusingly unclear, especially in technical elds, and a great
many very dierent proprietary solutions have been developed and are still being developed.
The new framework presented in this paper represents
the starting structure for an eective traceability system.
It is based on four pillars (product identication, data to
trace, product routing, and tools) and results in a systematic organic design of a traceability system for each food
supply chain.
Both alphanumerical codes, and above all bar codes and
RFID systems, are very promising technical resources.
The application of this framework to the Parmigiano
Reggiano supply chain has created a traceability system
that at the time of writing is working very well for both
manufacturers and for consumers.
By using the RFID system, cheese manufacturers are
able to trace the product along the chain with great precision and can apply possible re-call strategies very rapidly.
By inputting a code on an Internet web site, customers
can nd the history of the portion of cheese that they have
The economic impact of this system is negligible, being
approximately 0.5% of nal price of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Nevertheless, the cost of traceability is a very delicate
question, especially in the food sector because the value of
the product is normally very low and so the solutions adopted
for the tracking and tracing system must be very cheap.
For this reason alphanumerical codes and bar codes are
the most promising.
Radio frequency identication (RFID) has more potential and more advantages, but at the time of writing it can

The authors wish to thanks engineer Elena Ghielmi for

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