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Is Real-time Coding Essential for Traceability?

Each manufacturer has a different approach to traceability. Food safety traceability is required by law (Article 42 of the Food Safety Law), but this does not need expensive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or blockchain solutions. 

What is traceability?

Traceability is “the ability to trace raw materials and components added/used through all stages of receipt, production, processing and distribution”. To allow traceability of products, lot code, a unique identification code/number assigned to a specific batch of products by the manufacturer, is employed.

Batch size plays a significant role in lot coding

A food traceability system is typically developed based on a one-step-back, one-step-forward basis, where one-step-back concerns the origin of the ingredients; one-step-forward focuses on the delivery destination of the ‘batch’ of products. The first step to building an effective traceability system involves defining the size of a batch.

For example, a manufacturer produces and supplies bags of rice to a supermarket. The manufacturer could define one week-worth of production sold in a large consignment of rice as one batch and assign the batch a ‘lot code'. If a bag of rice was contaminated, rice bags with the same lot code must be withdrawn and recalled if sold to final consumers.

Lot coding can help minimise wastage and unnecessary expenditure

Batch size is usually much smaller for various reasons: better management of the raw materials/ingredients record – more accurate traceability, and minimal wastage when product withdrawal and recall are necessary.

Nevertheless, the ‘one-step-forward’ traceability is often limited to the production date punched onto the packaging via a hot stamp coder. In other words, manufacturers using hot stamp coders may use the production date (without the production time) as the product lot code to minimise the need to change the brass print characters of the hot stamp coders. Although having the production date on packaging allows traceability, the traceability information is vague.

Using the same rice manufacturer above as an example, if a quality control check identified the contamination was due to potential oil leakage from the packaging machine, all bags of rice produced on that day would be disposed of and wasted.

Real-time coding can improve traceability

A three-line real-time code printed by Marsh 241D

When product withdrawal/recall is necessary, real-time codes on packaging can minimise waste and profit lost by remarkably improving traceability. For example, the rice manufacturer in the previous example scenario also identified the oil contamination started at 2 pm when the maintenance engineer added oil lubricant to the machine. With real-time production dates and lot codes on the rice bags, all products made before 2 pm could be identified and would still be safe for resale, avoiding a large-scale product withdrawal/recall.

Consider another scenario where customers who purchased rice bags produced between 2 pm (14:00) and 3 pm (15:00) were unsatisfied with the quality of rice and returned them. Noticing the trend, the quality manager could review the production logs and identify the cause (i.e., the maintenance engineer did not refill the oil correctly), eliminating the need for a complete withdrawal/recall. The manufacturer could then implement some measures to avoid similar issues.

Printing dates and times with the Marsh 241D digital coder!

Real-time lot codes and production dates are increasingly desirable to enable better quality control and to reduce costs associated with product withdrawal/recall. However, the traditional hot stamp coders cannot produce real-time codes, as it simply does not have the intelligence. The good news is that our self-sufficient Marsh 241D digital hot stamp coders are available now! Marsh 241D digital coders are easy to self-install; every real-time code Marsh 241D coders print costs the same as every fixed code hot stamp coders punch.


Isn't it convenient to have digital hot stamp coders print real-time codes that update automatically at the same price? Time to get your own digital hot stamp coder at!