Does Your Supply Chain Have An Audit Trail?

A recent article in Industry Week on Lessons Learned from High-Profile Product Recalls had a number of good tips on what to do to prepare for a recall before it happens, but one tip in particular stood out. Specifically, the need for audit trails. Every risk management article these days talks about being prepared, identifying key stakeholders and information requirements, developing communication plans, preparing reverse logistics and fulfillment operations, and evaluating risk vs. cost, but few point out the need for good audit trails down to the component, and sometimes raw material, level.

Without a good audit trail, if a serious defect is discovered across a product line, or one or more food products you are selling is tainted with E. Coli or salmonella, you will have no choice to recall the entire product line because you will have no way to trace the defect back to the source and forward to only the affected units. For example, if all of the tainted soup cans came from a cannery in Michigan, then there is no need to recall the cans from Nebraska and Georgia. And if all of the overheating batteries came from one plant in China, and they were only used in two specific lines of laptops, and you have six, at most you will be recalling one third of the units.

So make sure you can trace each product back through each supplier, component manufacturer, and, in the case of food products, each grower. Otherwise, when a recall does happen, it could be financially devastating.