What, did you say, is in my burger? – Averting a PR Nightmare Using Barcodes

by Richa Gupta | 02/11/2013

Track-and-trace is well-regarded as the most important capability afforded by barcode labeling. Enterprises across economic sectors and installation environments have, over the years, extensively leveraged this feature to enhance visibility into their supply chains and keep a close watch on the movement of goods. I came across this post on the Enterprise Labeling site run by Loftware, one of the leading barcode label generation software solutions vendors, a few days ago.

While it was pretty shocking to read about the presence of horsemeat in what was sold as ground beef, I didn’t think too much about it until I read Burger King’s official press release stating that their burger meat was most definitely tainted as well – and that their customers in the UK and Ireland were unwittingly feasting on non-beef burgers. And then brands including Tesco (one of the world’s biggest retailers, based out of the UK) and Findus (a large prepared foods producer and retailer, headquartered in Sweden) confirmed meat contamination in the products that they sell. French retailers including Carrefour and Auchan have also recalled food supplied to them via Comigel, one of Findus’ leading distribution partners in the region. This whole controversy has spiraled into a PR nightmare for retailers and food manufacturers, one with far-reaching consequences especially as it directly impacts the health and well-being of consumers.

Organizations in the retail, hospitality (dining), and food processing and manufacturing industries need to impose strict adherence to their safety and quality standards regulations. Such comprehensive mandates will serve to ensure that every “touchpoint” in the commercial value chain feels equally responsible and is deemed liable to any misappropriations that may occur. Where do barcodes fit into this scenario? Like with their use in the pharmaceuticals supply chain to prevent counterfeiting, for example, barcodes are increasingly being leveraged by food companies to ensure the quality, authenticity and safety of their products as they move from source to consumption. Barcoding supports chain-of-custody tracking and helps manufacturers and their distribution partners “document” product trail from source to consumption. Their penetration, unfortunately, is not nearly adequate, as evidenced by this most recent horsemeat scandal.

As this scandal is exposed and a large-scale investigation gets underway, I also fully expect a rise in the use of QR codes on food packaging (particularly for meat and seafood) that will possibly serve to inform consumers using smartphones and other handheld devices about the source of their food, helping them make an intelligent purchasing decision. VDC will be following this story as it unravels and keep you updated on any developments that have the potential to directly impact the barcode technology market.

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