What is the GS-1 Food Traceability Initiative?

The first question to answer is “what or who is GS-1?” GS-1 is a not-for-profit member organization whose mission is to design and implement global standards for the world-wide supply chain. GS-1 is not a government agency, but an independent organization that includes members from manufacturing, retail and wholesale companies. Its initiatives include standardization in traceability, RFID technology, EDI (electronic data interchange), mobility, etc. Its governing board includes representatives that read like a “who’s who” in the food, pharma and retail industries: Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, etc.

The need for traceability in the fresh food industry has been in the news lately – for example the spinach and the cantaloupe scares. The Federal Government has been discussing the need to trace fresh food back to its source so cases such as this can be contained more easily – but there has been no “requirement” to do so up to this point. GS-1 is encouraging preparation for this possible legislation. Besides that, implementing an internal traceability program is simply good business practices.

The GS-1 barcode is similar to the UPC and EAN codes used by the grocery industry. Note: you can use your own barcodes, and do not need to implement a GS-1 compliant code. However, if you plan to distribute your products to a broad market and/or to major food retailers, it may be a good idea to implement a GS-1 barcode. Here are the steps:

  • Get a GS-1 Company Prefix (http://www.gs1.org/barcodes.
  • Assign your own product codes to each item (the barcode will be GS-1 Prefix followed by your unique product code).
  • Pick a printing method – you can use your own barcode printer or have them preprinted by a number of sources including embedding them in your packaging.
  • Format your label, including the human readable text.
  • Pick a barcode – 2D barcodes take up less space but not all scanning technology works with them; there are multiple 1D barcodes to choose from depending on the size requirement of your packaging.
  • Implement a Quality Plan – barcodes must be checked periodically for scan-ability. There are printer/verifier systems that can perform this action all at once.

Once you have the barcode technology implemented, use it within your own plant to track production and inventory. It’s a proven way to increase productivity, improve accuracy and speed up reporting.