Glossary of Food Traceability Terms

Become well-versed in food traceability and transparency. Below is a comprehensive glossary of terms to help you get up to speed and conversant in this growing area. Check back regularly as we will continue to update this glossary as the traceability field continues to evolve.  


Access: The speed with which track and trace information can be communicated to supply chain members and the speed with which requested information could be disseminated to public health officials during food-related emergencies.

Activity ID: The characters that constitute an identifier (e.g., abc123) that can be used to link multiple Critical Tracking Events to fully track and trace a product. For transformation events, this can be the identifier on a process or Work Order, or some other identifier to relate the inputs to the outputs of a production process. For shipping and receiving, this can be the identifier on a purchase order, a sales order or some other identifier that will relate shipments to receipts.

Aggregation: The process in which product or information is combined such as in batches.

Application Programming Interface (API): A set of rules and specifications for software programs to follow in communicating with each other to facilitate/enable interoperability.

Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN): A detailed document sent to the customer that provides information about a pending delivery. Usually this is sent electronically and details physical characteristics about the shipment.


Barcode: A series of thin and thick lines that carry machine-readable information about a product.

Batch/Lot Number: A batch number is a unique coded identifier that unites products/items that have undergone combination, transformation, or manipulation of one or more products. The lot number is an identifier that corresponds to a specific grouping/composition of the product. “Batch” and “lot” are considered synonyms by some firms.

Bill of Lading: A document that establishes the terms of a contract between a shipper and a transportation company. It serves as a document of title, a contract of carriage and a receipt for goods.


Breadth: The amount of information the product tracing system records.

Business-to-Business Commerce (B2B):  The exchange of information, services, or products between businesses.

Carrier ID: A number used to identify the company or individual responsible for conveyance of goods from one party to another.

Chain of Custody (COC): A formal means of marking the transition points in the supply chain. For example, anywhere a product changes ownership, is altered, or repacked.

Computer Code: A set of rules and specifications for software programs to follow in communicating with each other to facilitate/enable interoperability.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL): Required labeling that includes information about a food product’s country of harvest or country of substantial transformation prior to entry into a country. May also require marking products such as raw species as farmed or wild-caught.

Commercial Transparency: The minimum amount of information that needs to be made available to enable a commercial transaction.  

Commingled Products: Any commodity that is combined or mixed from multiple batches.

Critical Tracking Event (CTE): Point at which product is moved between premises or is transformed, or is determined to be a point where data capture is necessary to maintain traceability.


Data Security and Access: The mechanisms or processes that establish security of the data within a system. These processes operate at the firm level and along the supply chain and include the process for setting permissions, as well as determining which staff or trading partners can access data under what circumstances and for what length of time.

Data Storage: The way data is stored by a firm for all stages of the production process.

Data Transmission: The mechanisms and processes used to transmit data and information along the supply chain.

Data Validation: The process that ensures that checks are in place to produce data that are accurate and valid. This process may include practices ranging from double-checking data by hand, to built-in computer algorithms.

Depth: How far upstream or downstream in the supply chain the system tracks.

Digital Traceability: Computerized record keeping of the source, transformation, aggregation, destination, and other associated information related to seafood products for traceability purposes.

Disaggregation: Breaking up processes in the supply chain into smaller elements under the control of two or more firms.

Distributor: A wholesaler, jobber, or other manufacturer or supplier that sells chiefly to retailers and commercial users.

Downstream: The direction of the supply chain away from the producer and toward the consumer. This includes any stage of the production process that involves processing, packaging, and sale of a finished product that reaches the consumer.


Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): The electronic transfer of data among computer systems using standardized data formats.

Electronic Product Code (EPC): A unique identifier used in electronic identification tags to differentiate products in the supply chain.

Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS): GS1 standard that enables trading partners to share information about the physical movement and status of products as they travel throughout the supply chain – from business to business and ultimately to consumers.

Electronic Reporting: An online reporting mechanism that allows industry to provide their CTE/KDE data as needed based on a specific request from regulatory officials or trading partners.

Electronic Traceability: When product information relevant to traceability is recorded, stored, shared, and accessed via electronic means.

Electronic Traceback and Traceforward: The ability to electronically trace the movement of a food product forward or backwards through its supply chain.

End-to-End / Full Chain / Whole Chain Traceability: Frequently used synonymously, it typically refers to the ability to track information on a product throughout its entire lifecycle across the supply chain through means of recorded identification.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Business process management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many of its functions.

Extensibility: Ensuring during its design the ability to extend a systems’ functions/capabilities in the future.

External Traceability: The data exchange and business processes that take place between trading partners to accurately identify (track/trace) product.


First In, First Out (FIFO): In a FIFO system, the first items that enter a system are the first ones that exit the system. In other words, the items are removed in the same order they are entered.

Fragmentation: When different components of a process (product or system) are in numerous places or performed by different companies within the supply chain.


Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN): An internet-based interconnected network of interoperable data pools and a global registry known as the GS1 Global Registry, that enables companies around the world to exchange standardized and synchronized supply chain data with their trading partners using a standardized Global Product Classification.

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN): The format in which GTINs must be represented in the 14-digit reference field (key) in computer files to ensure uniqueness of the identification numbers.


Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN): An internet-based interconnected network of interoperable data pools and a global registry known as the GS1 Global Registry, that enables companies around the world to exchange standardized and synchronized supply chain data with their trading partners using a standardized Global Product Classification.

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN): The format in which GTINs must be represented in the 14-digit reference field (key) in computer files to ensure uniqueness of the identification numbers.


Hackathon: Competitive, collaborative events where teams of specialists and technical experts produce minimal viable products and proof of concepts to meet challenges posed in a short time span. Challenges are proposed by challenge owners, individuals and organizations which work in concert with competing teams to shape and develop the eventual product. Teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and are awarded prizes based on innovation, applicability, and usability, among other criteria. The resulting products are often released as open source.


Identifiers: The system of codes, including alphanumeric and symbolic codes, used in supply chains to record product data and differentiate specific units or batches.

Implicated Product: A product identified during an investigation as being the source of contamination.

Importer: When products are brought in from abroad for resale.

Information technology (IT): The use of hardware and software systems and networks (especially computers and telecommunications) for storing, processing, retrieving, and distribution of data and information.

Integrated Hardware Traceability: Tools that collect and record information for traceability purposes. These tools include bar codes, readers, RFID tags, and scanners.

Internal Traceability: The ability to follow the path of a specified unit of a product and/or batch upon receipt, through internal processes, and until shipment from within one company or company unit

Interoperable: The extent to which systems can exchange data and interpret the shared data.

International Trade Data System (ITDS): A single-window, data-entry portal for imports and exports, which is considered by NOAA as interoperable because multiple agencies can view the data.


Key Data Element (KDE): Data input required to successfully trace a product and/or its ingredients through all relevant CTEs.


Logistical Unit: An item of any composition established for transport and/or storage that needs to be managed through the supply chain.

Lot/Batch Relevant Date: A date that is associated with a specific group of products/items that have undergone the same transformation processes. This date may be used in managing the product and could include production dates, “use by” dates, or “best by” dates.


Middleman: A third party who purchases goods from producers and sells them to consumers or retailers.


Node: An exit or entry point for food items in the distribution system.


Ontology: A complex and formally defined, classified, and characterized set of concepts and relationships (known together as terms) for use in information technology applications. Ontologies are useful for resolving ambiguities in datasets when performing data integration. Ontologies also can be called vocabularies, but vocabularies tend to be simpler and less formal sets of terms.

One-up, One-down: Records that indicate from where a product was received and to where a product was sent.


Paper-based Traceability: A traceability system that does not use electronic means to capture data, but instead uses hard copy, print records or documents to share traceability information.

Pilot: A process of evaluating food supply chains to ascertain traceability requirements among the participants. These requirements may include identifiers, data sharing mechanisms, Key Data Elements (KDE) and Critical Tracking Events (CTE). The GFTC pilot methodology traces a product's supply chain journey from origin to retail/food service, maps KDEs to CTEs, links them to global standards, and tests data exchange.

Point of Convergence: The common node or point within the supply chain identified after tracing food from two or more independent points downstream, for identifying the causative food vehicle (a common source of contaminated food).

Point of Origin: The node where food enters the food distribution system.

Precision: The degree of assurance with which the system can pinpoint a product’s movement or characteristics.

Product Identification: A reference value, typically numeric, to a static set of product formulation and packaging characteristics assigned to a product by the product supplier. Examples include a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) and a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

Product Tracing: The ability to follow the movement of a food product and its constituents through the stages of production, processing, and distribution, both backward and forward.


Quick Response Code (QR Code): This two-dimensional barcode is machine readable, consisting of a black and white pattern which contains product information.


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): Technology that uses small tags attached to products to store and transmit electronic product codes (EPC). Passive RFID tags require the use of stationary or handheld readers that electronically prompt the tags to transmit data. Unlike bar codes, RFID tags do not need to be in the line of sight of a reader. Active RFID tags use their own power supplies to send information to readers that can be up to a mile away. Implementation of RFID requires tags, labeling devices, readers, and information technology systems.

Retailer: A person who makes direct sales to consumers.


Serial Number: A unique set of numbers that shows the position of an item in a series.

Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC): The 18-digit number comprised of an extension digit, GS1 company prefix, serial reference, and check digit.

Semantic Interoperability: The ability of information systems to not only exchange unambiguous data that two or more systems understand, but also enable computerized systems to converse in ways that results in a shared sense of meaning and the creation of new knowledge.

Supply Chain: The system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in producing and/or moving a food product to the consumer.

Syntactic Interoperability: The ability of computer systems or software programs to communicate with one another. Syntactic interoperability involves agreed upon standards related to data formatting and communication protocols, such as XML or SQL. The presence of syntactic interoperability does not ensure that the data transmitted from a sender will be interpreted accurately by a receiver; that requires semantic interoperability.


Technology Architecture: A set of standards, protocols, and processes designed to provide a blueprint of how various technology platforms can work together toward a common goal. For traceability, a technology architecture is used to enable interoperability of systems to allow for seamless data flow and authorized access through the supply chain.

Traceability: The ability to track the forward movement of a product through specified stage(s) of the extended supply chain and trace backward the history, application, or location of that product. Results in “the ability to access any or all information relating to that which is under consideration, throughout its entire life cycle, by means of recorded identifications” (Olsen and Borit 2013).

Traceback Investigation: Begins at the end of the supply chain nearer to consumers or the point-of-purchase and traces the distribution of the product in the direction of the source/farm.

Traceforward Investigation: Begins at the end of the supply chain nearer to the source/farm or manufacturer/distributor and traces forward toward the consumer.

Trading Partner: Any supply chain partner that has a direct impact on the flow of goods through the supply chain. Examples include third party logistics providers, manufacturers, processors, retailers, wholesalers, distributors, operators, and growers.

Transformation: A change to the nature of a traceable item that alters the identity and/or characteristics of the traceable item. The act of changing the item such as combining ingredients to make a finished product or case picking to create a new pallet. Transformation can be production, aggregation, grouping, splitting, mixing, packing, and repacking traceable items.

Transshipment: To transfer to cargo from one vessel to another while in transit or in port.

Transporter: The party that handles and or stores the traceable item from one point to another without transforming the item.


UPC: A barcode used internationally for tracking trade of items at retail, Universal Product Code.

Upstream: Any stage of the production process that occurs prior to another supply chain process. The closer to the beginning a firm is in the supply chain, the further upstream it is said to be.


Value Added: Enhancing a product before it is sold to customers. Typically, as a product moves through each stage of production its value is increased.

Vertical Integration: When one company performs or owns two or more stages of the production process. For example, when a manufacturer owns a distributor.

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