What should you consider when creating traceability lots codes?

December 02, 2020

Before we talk about how to create a lot code, we should talk a little bit about what a traceability lot code is, and why you might need one.

As global supply chains slowly become more integrated, creating complex supply chains, food safety experts around the world have increasingly pushed for more transparent and documented traceability practices.

While this paper draws from advice regarding best practices for food and food-related products, these practices are applicable across industries. Many countries and organizations have begun to incorporate Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) into their recommendations for the cosmetics (US Food and Drug Administration), pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries (World Health Organization), and non-human food products, such as animal feed and pet food (Food and Agriculture Organization), with traceability as a core tenet of those processes.

The Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code“, collected by the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), defines “traceability” as the ability to follow the movement of food through specific stages of production, processing and distribution.

In practice, many governments have adopted a system called “one step backward, one step forward” for supply chain partners dealing with food, up until the point of consumer retail, meaning that businesses that handle food anywhere along the chain are responsible for keeping records relating to one step before they receive it, and one step after it has been further distributed.

For example, if you’re a nut importer, you would need to keep records from whom you purchased the nuts, whether that’s a farm or another distributor, and then one step forward onto the customers that you sold them to.

This is most easily done by assigning a traceability lot code to each stock lot of product as it arrives at your facility, and keeping records of how you transform and process those raw materials into finished goods to be sold, and to whom you sell them.

Wherefour is designed from the core to manage this system of traceability, and today, I wanted to touch on some best practices we’ve learned over the years.

Make it legible for the user

For you and your team, it’s important to be able to take a quick glance and know precisely what you’re dealing with. Having an SOP that standardizes exactly how to create and use a lot code is a necessity for any modern manufacturer.

Include a date and unique product signifier

Some companies use the Julian date, but for most teams, it will be most straightforward to use a regular date. Something like “20 11 27” (YY MM DD) that includes the year can be very helpful. You may think that your product has a relatively short shelf life, but once it leaves your facility, it may end up somewhere long past its due date. If someone from further along in the supply chain comes back to you with one of your lot codes, being able to identify the year will be important.

A unique product identifier can be pretty straight forward, depending on your products. Similar to a SKU, this identifier lives with your product, and allows for at-a-glance identification of what exactly the product is if a label has been misplaced.

For companies that work with a lot of products that look the same (for example, a bulk cosmetics serum or dough), a unique product identifier can help to avoid product mix-ups and cross-contamination. Depending on how many products you have, usually a simple three letter or letter and number combination will be enough.

Include Work Order or batch number

One of the things that can really help streamline your traceability process is attaching a Work Order or batch number to each of your lot codes. In Wherefour, you have the option to auto-populate your work order numbers, which is a great way to make your traceability lot code unique.

Remember, a traceability lot code needs to be unique to the specific lot. Using a Work Order or batch number will help narrow down the lots in question if you ever need to do a recall on your product, and will also allow you to quickly go back to the production information to see any specific notes associated with the lot.

Optional elements: location, department

Depending on the set up of your facilities, you may also wish to include other information. For facilities with multiple locations that manufacture the same product, for instance, it would be important to include a location so that you don’t have to recall products produced at all locations, just the specific one associated with the lot code.

Example: 927-QDCB201127

  • 927 is the Work Order number
  • Q stands for Queen street, the location of primary production
  • DCB stands for Dark Chocolate Bar
  • 201127 stands for November 27, 2020

A few practical notes to round off our best practices:

When labeling your products with traceability lot codes, make sure it isn’t on a part of the product customers throw out, cut off, etc. You’ll also want to try a few tests — bags of chips often have the date printed right at the top, and can be rubbed off after a few rolls up and down (if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t finish their chips in one go!)

Make sure that regular, normal use of your packaging such as opening, closing and storage won’t diminish the readability of your lot code. Especially for products that make it to the end consumer, it is important that it has some staying power.

If you have multi-step production, every step will generate a new lot code that will be used up in the next step. By separating out the steps into different lot codes, it allows you to isolate specific problems when doing a recall and reduce financial risk to your business.

If you’d like help developing a standard traceability lot code practice for your business, get in touch with the Wherefour Customer Success team and we can talk through some of the specifics with you!

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash