By Chris Brown and Thomas Roden*

In Denmark, 51.0 percent of men and 65.8 percent of women take one or more dietary supplements. With an increasing number of users across the European continent, it is essential that more must be done to ensure product fidelity and ultimately protect consumers. Though many dietary supplements consist of naturally occurring ingredients, the industry has not been without scandal. Over the period of 2008 to 2011, the Government Accountability Office of the United States received 6,307 reports of health problems from the consumption of dietary supplements. Subsequent testing of herbal dietary supplements found that 80 percent of tested products, in fact, contained chemical contaminants. Pairing this with the current worldwide rise in allergies, where seven percent of children have been diagnosed with allergies, compared to just three percent of the adult population paints a worrying picture, it’s clear that the growth in supplement consumption must be paired with growth in traceability from the dietary supplement industry. Supplements manufacturers need to embrace clear traceability procedures to ensure that only high-quality supplements enter the market. Especially as the risk to consumers is high, even one mistake can cause long-lasting, and potentially fatal consequences. In 2015, the American market for dietary supplements was valued at $37 billion with the economic impact in the United States for 2016 estimated at $122 billion, including employment wages and taxes. One 2016 analysis estimated the total market for dietary supplements could reach $278 billion worldwide by 2024.

Luckily there are clear rules and legislation that producers can follow to ensure that they are maintaining high standards when it comes to supplement production, depending on the region in which production is located. At the same time, there are many innovative technologies available that can help businesses not only improve traceability but also save money and improve process efficiency.

Legislation in the EU

Meanwhile, the European Union(EU) Food Supplements Directive of 2002, requires that supplements be proven to be safe, both in dosagesand in purity. Supplements must also first be confirmed to be safe before they are sold in the EU without prescription. As a category of food, however, the regulations regarding traceability, and good manufacturing practices are governed by each member states internal regulations and come under the remit of internal regulators.

To this extent, it is a good practice for dietary supplement producers to trace every single ingredient throughout the whole of their supply chain. Not only will this have good business applications, because fully understanding a supply chain will drastically reduce the cost of a recall, but problematic steps or points of contamination will become easier to trace, cutting down the number of products that need to be recalled should the worst happen.

Technology for traceability

Many internal regulators have Genetically Modified Plants (GMPs) that require a written record of traceability to be maintained, this is time-consuming and prone to errors because workers will only ever be able to record a snapshot of conditions instead of being able to see the whole overview.

However, technologies such as manufacturing operation management (MOM) systems now allow producers to record this data and achieve a deeper understanding of their product automatically. MOM systems record data from sensors, which allows producers to create digital passports for products that run through the production plant.For example, ABB’s MOM system allows manufacturers to break down a production plant intodistinct steps that are recorded into the products’ digital passport. This means that plant managers can easily track the precise conditions of the product through the production process and, for example, identify when and where a contaminant or potential contaminant has entered the system.

Producers that use MOM systems can, therefore, state exactly what is in their product, confirm that it has been maintained at safe conditions and, in the case of contamination, plant managers can accurately understand how many batches need recalling. This will increase the transparency of business operations and build a relationship of trust with consumers and buyers.

As more people began to take supplements as a part of their daily diets it is imperative that manufacturers continue to improve traceability. Only when there is a clear line of traceability will producers be able to create a strong and stable bridge of trust with consumers.


* Chris Brown and Thomas Roden – Stone Junction Ltd.