Barcode-driven product tracking leads the way in enabling seafood traceability

Beep. Beep. That ubiquitous sound, heard six billion times a day at the checkout counters in grocery stores and shops around the world, could be integral to the next phase of seafood traceability.

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Barcodes – and their cousin, the QR code – may seem like simple things, but the data they hold could be the difference between knowing the origin of a fish or not.

For fishermen, seafood processors and others in the industry, better traceability and more efficient product tracking can reduce logistics costs while building customer loyalty. For environmentalists and regulators, traceability offers another tool to fight illegal and unsustainable fishing.

Compared to other food industries, seafood is behind in its use of GS1 Standards, the most widely used product-tracking system in the world, according to Angela Fernandez, the vice president of retail grocery and food service for GS1 U.S.

Though some seafood companies are making major progress, only about 25 percent have traceability programs underway, Fernandez said. Other food industries are further along. The meat industry, for instance, has been using GS1 Standards for almost two decades. More than 65 percent of the produce industry has implemented programs.

“The top of the supply chain – fishermen and processors – have not yet embraced the use of produce identification and barcodes, mainly due to the physical challenges of barcoding a fish or seafood product,” Fernandez told SeafoodSource.

GS1 Standards help retailers with inventory management while potentially offering data to consumers, who can scan certain kinds of QR and other codes for product information.

By applying the standards, companies can link their internal product tracking systems with an external system that trading partners are also connected to. The standards involve storing identification numbers for products and locations inside barcodes and QR codes, then making that identification data available to companies up and down the supply chain through web-based data exchanges.

But the standards have to be adopted by a large portion of the industry to truly be effective.

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