In 2006, bags of ready-to-eat spinach contaminated with a virulent strain of E. coli sickened 205 people killing 3. After painstaking DNA matching, the source of the outbreak was traced to an organic spinach farm in California who leased the land from a cattle ranch. The FDA found that wild pigs, locations of irrigation wells and surface waterways exposed to animal waste were likely responsible for the spinach contamination. In the end the outbreak cost the spinach industry $400 million.
Influenced by the cost of the recalls, in 2008 an initiative called the GS1 US Standards was launched by leading food service manufacturing, distributor and operator companies as a response to the industry’s growing need to streamline traceability and food safety processes for fresh foods. The voluntary initiative sought to drive waste out of the food chain, improve product information, including nutritionals and allergens, and establish a foundation for food safety through better traceability.
The main goal of the initiative was to provide clearer communication between companies in an increasingly complex food service supply chain. To accomplish these goals the food service industry came up with three key standards to achieve the objectives of the initiative:
- Global Location Number (GLN) provides information about the location of a company’s headquarters, as well as locations within a company, such as billing departments, ship-to addresses, and restaurant locations.
- Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) allow suppliers to create unique and standardized identifiers for product/cases.
- Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) is a network of standardized, GS1-certified data pools where all participants in the supply chain can share and synchronize product data, such as identifiers, weights, dimensions, nutritionals, ingredients, and marketing information.
Before the GS1 Standards, each unique business relationship between two trading partners produced a set of proprietary account/location numbers specific to that relationship. The end result was numerous identification numbers, often for the same account and location, which were indecipherable by anyone except the originator. Trying to map out the multitude of identification numbers created an environment prone to errors.
The GS1 US Standard sought to streamline the identification numbers mess by adopting the GS1 Global Location Number (GLN). GLNs are standards-based identification numbers in a standardized data format based on standardized allocation rules. In the end each adopting member would have a globally-unique location identifier for the communication of supply chain information.
The GTIN uniquely identifies trade items at all item and package levels. GTINs are contained inside of the numbers at the bottom of barcodes. Each different item is given its own GTIN. The GTIN is assigned by the brand owner and registered with a GS1 Company Prefix licensee. The GTIN does not contain any meaningful information in itself. Rather it is simply a pointer to an information database, the GDSN. Benefits of a standard GTIN include:
- Drives eCommerce: GTINs can be encoded into different types of technology including RFID and other types of barcodes so machines can read the technology throughout the supply chain.
- Enhances Compatibility: Business can trade with each other knowing exactly what it is they are getting.
- Facilitates Accuracy: Improves scanning accuracy and allows for accurate stock control.
- Fosters GDSN Compliance: The GTIN identifies trade items for electronic data exchanges between trading partners as a required component of a GDSN.
- Provides Flexibility: Businesses that use GTINs can add more information about the product to the GS1 Standards data pool as needed.
The GDSN is the resource that the GLN and GTIN points to when data is needed. As an adopter of the GS1 US Standards, members can access the master data of the GDSN. The GDSN are crucial because they provide data pools based on a set of standards. The commonality allows for easier exchange of information, reducing trade barriers.
Originally meant to provide traceability to the supply chain, the adoption of the GS1 US Standards has created many new benefits by reducing obstacles to trade. The new standard also fosters a better a business environment by establishing information pools open for review.
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