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How to perform an effective traceability or recall exercise

Having a properly working Traceability Program in place gives the facility the confidence that they can quickly define suspected raw materials, food contact packaging materials, rework and finished product.


From (food) legislation, over ISO to food safety standards, traceability is a mandatory requirement.


The traceability program needs to be described. This could be done in a procedure or instruction and should cover all requirements for tracing by batch number. The traceability exercise is the verification of the program:


  • Which is done at least once per year,
  • Where data should be collected within maximum 4 hours,
  • Traceability should be done forwards and backwards.


An organisation very often performs a traceability exercise from finished product to raw materials, e.g. in case of complaints or nonconformances. But we also have to remember to carry out traceability exercises from raw material to finished product.

Traceability exercise: the details

What kind of data needs to be collected for a traceability exercise?


A traceability exercise from finished product to raw material should include as a minimum the following records:


  • All raw materials used during production,
  • Rework (if applicable),
  • All food contact packaging materials,
  • Work-in-process,
  • Finished product,
  • Distribution.


Attention: Processing aids should also be a part of the traceability program!


Traceability exercises from raw material to finished product should include the following documentation:


  • All finished product produced from the traced batch of raw material,
  • Rework for all production runs (if applicable),
  • Work-in-process for all production runs,
  • Distribution for all involved production runs.


Attention: Tracing raw material can be tricky. This could involve one or more production runs. You have to include all production runs where the traced batch of raw material was used.

    The traceability exercise is the verification of the program.

    Critical is to have traceable lot numbers in each step of production and distribution. Each finished product, raw materials, packaging materials, semi-finished products, rework needs to include a unique code and records.


    Attention: Also returned raw materials or packaging materials from production to warehouse needs to have full coding. Good practice is to use already opened on previous production run raw material or packaging material and to apply the First-In/First-Out (FIFO) principle.

    We would like to help you with an effective traceability or mock recall exercise.

    Mass balance

    A mass balance exercise is usually carried out as follows:


    ● Select a batch code of a specific raw material;

    ● Identify the quantity of the raw material supplied under that batch code;

    ● Identify the recipes in which the ingredient is used;

    ● Use production schedules and batch make-up sheets to calculate the quantities of the selected batch of ingredient used in each product;

    ● Calculate the quantity of any unused part of the batch in the warehouse.

    ● Reconcile the quantity delivered against the amounts used plus any residual unused stock.


    Recall/Withdrawal procedure

    As a part of tracing a suspected product, a recall program should define the procedures for the quick and controlled removal of the product from the market. These procedures and their interaction are also tested during the mock recall. The traceability exercise is part of the recall procedure.


    The minimum requirements for recall exercise:


    ● Takes place at least annually;

    ● Done based on the recall of finished product, ingredient or packaging material;


    Attention: Usually, a recall is understood as the return of suspected finished product as a consequence of a facility mistake/error. But the source of a recall can also be a critical problem of raw material or packaging used during production or failures in the supply chain.

    • Includes distribution records to the first level of distribution outside the facility;


    Attention: The best way to cover this requirement is to collect emails with confirmation from all involved distributors.


    The traceability systems ensure that a facility is capable of effectively managing the recall of a product.


    We would like to help you with an effective traceability or mock recall exercise: contact us for a practical approach and prevent issues: you don’t want to improvise during a crisis, so be prepared!