At the root of this crisis was the deadly bacterium E. coli, detected in Germany but wrongly linked to cucumbers from southern Spain. Somehow, this disastrous affair has highlighted the effectiveness of traceability for Spanish horticultural production.
Paradoxically, efforts to promote traceability have in part increased Spanish exports in recent years, particularly in Germany, where legislation is particularly strict on pesticide residues: "Last year we had ten alerts on residual levels in Germany, that German health authorities thought were too high”, says a Spanish exporter based in Murcia. “In all cases we immediately identified the exact source of production, and the consignments in question were returned without further damage to the industry. This ability to trace the source is a guarantee of quality for buyers, and a process that works correctly 99 percent of the time ... except for the cucumber crisis!”
Traceability in the service of quality
Traceability is required at all levels of the industry. At the very borders of the Iberian Peninsula major retail players demand it from fruit and vegetable producers. Not only for health and safety reasons, but also for more efficiency in transport and handling.
El Corte Inglès has therefore equipped its huge Valdemoro logistics warehouse (near Madrid) with an RFID identification system to mark the 10,000 pallets leaving every day, bound for 586 shopping centres. The technology applied here (designed by Toshiba) can detect RFID chips when delivery lorries pass through an "inspection arc", as theyleave the warehouses. An alarm is triggered if one or more pallets is not identified. Although the system may not be fail-safe, this logistics system is a guarantee for producers of perishable goods.
To satisfy their customers, carriers specialising in freight and logistics (F&L) are rolling out traceability processes, including for temperature-controlled transport used for pre-prepared food in particular (salads in bags or packaged vegetables, for example), which require packaging temperatures between 0 and 5 °C. This is exactly what logisticsgroup Integra2 offers in Spain, with its "Frio Gourmet" service.