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GS-1 Global Traceability Standard



The GS-1 standard is important in the food supply chain. Companies want to be able to track their products through the various stages of their supply chain and be able to trace the item no matter what company or location the item is located. The GS-1 Standard and the traceability it offers can be used to help a company comply with regulatory requirements, such as FDA regulations on record keeping (21 CFR 1) and recalls (21 CFR 7.59). Traceability is also important for complying with the requirements of customers, as well as being part of a company’s product safety policy, anti-counterfeit measures, quality management, product withdrawal, and product recall.

GS-1 Standard Scope

The scope of the GS-1 traceability covers the identification of the items in the supply chain, the parties involved, and the events that occur along the supply chain. The standard covers the labeling of the items as well as record keeping, communications, and data retrieval. The products that are in the scope of the GS-1 standard include animal grade pharmaceuticals, animal feed, manufactured food items, packaging materials, and agricultural inputs, such as pesticides. When we examine the food supply chain, the items that can be traced include the feed given to animals, pesticides used on crops, ingredients used in the manufacture of foodstuffs, a finished manufactured item, and the packaging used with the finished product.

Internal and External Traceability

When items move along the supply chain they are received at a partner, go through a process or processes at the partner, and then dispatched to the next partner in the supply chain. When an item is received at a partner it is traced internally at that partner, and the item is traced externally when the item is moved between the partners in the supply chain.

Internal Traceability

When an item arrives at a partner along the supply chain the item is received and the internal traceability commences. The item is then subject to a number of processes that can occur at the partner, such as being stored, moved from one area to another at the partner, or can go through some transformation. When an item is transformed its characteristics are changed, which could include be used in the manufacture of a finished item, re-packaged in different material, or split into a number of smaller components.

When the item has been through a number of processes at the partner, it can be dispatched to the next partner along the supply chain. This may require the shipment of the product to the next partner via a shipping company.

External Traceability

When an item is moved from one trading partner to another, then the item is being traced externally. The item is said to be sent from the sending partner, called the traceable item source, to the traceable item recipient. Each partner should be able to trace an item but does not necessarily have to keep records on the traceability of an item once it has left its facility or before it arrives, but does need communicate and record identification of the item. This means that the all traceable items must have some form of identification, such as a label, barcode or tag, which can be identified at the source and recipient.

Each item can be identified by a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) which is a identifier for trade items that can be 8, 12, 13 or 14 digits in length. The eight digit GTIN number will be more applicable for a small item, where a large bar code is not possible. The 12 digit GTIN is used as a Universal Product Code (UPC) and contains a check digit with an eleven digit UPC, including a company prefix. The GTIN-13 contains a 12 digit assignment for the item, a check digit, and a GS1 company prefix. The 14 digit GTIN includes the 12 digit assignment for the item, a check digit and one digit representing the Indicator digit to indicate packaging level.

Traceability Data

When information is stored or transmitted on the traceability of an item in the supply chain, there is certain data that is recorded. This includes the trading partner, the location, identification of the traceable item, the event that occurred, as well as the date and time.

Traceable Item

A traceable item is the physical item that is moving along the supply chain. This can be a number of different items such as a shipment, a logistics unit, or a trade item.

  • Shipment – This could contain one or more logistics units, such as a truck load or container.
  • Logistics Unit – This can be a single trade item, a number of trade items, or a number of logistics units, for example a pallet of goods.
  • Trade Item – This can be a single item, a batch of the same item, or a serialized item, such as a carton of the same product or a single product sold to the consumer.


The ability to trace items in the food supply chain is important for companies and consumers. Having the ability to track items improves the logistics function of a company and allows it to monitor the performance of its trading partners. For consumers it is important as in the event of a product recall, it allows manufacturers to quickly and accurately identify the location of the items to be recalled before they are purchased by the consumer.

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