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In a supply chain, every decision depends on data, so data integrity is critical. Accurate and timely data ensures supply chain partners hit their targets, comply with internal processes, make informed decisions and streamline processes while controlling costs.

“Accurate and timely data allows you to make educated and smart decisions about your business. If the data is inaccurate, it portrays a different truth than the reality. In some cases, this can have a dramatic impact on results,” said Vishwa Ram, vice president of data science and analytics at Penske Logistics.

The Importance of Data Quality and Monitoring Tools

In the 2024 Annual Third-Party Logistics Study, more than half of respondents — 57% of shippers and 52% of third-party logistics providers — said they’ve experienced issues with data quality. Managing data is especially important for logistics providers, who often draw on their customers’ data but are significantly impacted if it’s incorrect.

The report found that third-party logistics (3PL) providers are more likely than shippers to leverage data monitoring tools, use IT staff to check and resolve data quality concerns and have built-in data monitoring capabilities that automatically detect and notify stakeholders of data quality issues.

Potential Setbacks in Data Quality

Without accurate and transparent data, a business can experience any of the following, which creates more work to resolve.

Lack of Trust

Errors and missing or inaccurate data all harm data integrity, and one of the most obvious identifiers of bad data is a lack of trust. “If you do not have confidence in the data and information generated from the system of record to make business decisions, then you probably have a data integrity issue,” said Rowland Myers, vice president of DCC strategy and support services at Penske Logistics.

Human Error

Penske Logistics has established key measurements to ensure data accuracy and has several methods to verify data, depending on the source. Myers said the validation process starts at the beginning. “From an accuracy standpoint, we can confirm that it was put into the source system correctly,” he explained, adding that some of the biggest challenges center around areas where human touchpoints are needed. “If a driver has to punch a data point into the phone, there is an opportunity for error.”

For example, if a driver needs to hit a button on their phone when they arrive at a location but fails to do so until well after their arrival time, it creates inaccurate information. “If something shows it is out of tolerance, it will flag it, and we can find out what happened. In some cases, the solution is better training to create habits that drive accuracy and timeliness,” Myers said.

Ram said machine data capture is always more accurate than human data capture. “We’ve done a number of things to turn as much of our data capture as possible into machine capture, but we’re always going to have humans involved, so we do have to focus on the human element,” he added.

Missing Data Elements

With information transmitted via electronic data interchange (EDI), Penske has created automatic message processing and business rules. “We look for missing data elements and flag those,” Ram said. “In some cases, we go back to the customer. In others, we are reviewing what the data should be.”

Missing data — a misalignment between what is needed and what is available — can be a process error or a case of something not being captured. “For example, if a customer doesn't provide data, it is hard for us to give them an accurate analysis on the cube of their trailer,” Myers said. “We may have to go back and understand the requirements to start tracking additional information, or we can quickly show how to improve the data through process rigor or additional training.”

Automation can also improve data timeliness, which is critical in supply chains. “If you don’t get it in real time, it loses its impact,” Myers said. “In our business, on time is one of the most sought-after compliance metrics to make sure we’re getting products from A to B. If we don’t have the timely data, you don’t have the visibility to give the customer information.”

Delay in Product Movement

More importantly, real-time data allows logistics providers to mitigate risk and keep products moving. “We want to be proactive and let the data predict an issue before it happens,” Myers said.

It isn’t enough to just capture information. It must also be transmitted to everyone who needs it. “If somebody is sitting in LA traffic and is going to be late in Denver, capturing that information in real time, sharing it to our various systems and sending a message to a customer isn’t something that is trivial,” Ram stated. “Even though we as a society have come to expect these things, it still remains a complex endeavor. We have invested millions of dollars in the right systems, architecture and analytics to make it all happen.”

Data Integration Barriers

There are countless data points in today’s operating environment, which is why architecture is critical. “We have to funnel that information into a single place accessible to all parties to get the single source of truth,” Ram said. “We have broken many of the integration barriers and integrated with a lot of vendors and technology providers over the years.”

According to the 2024 Annual Third-Party Logistics Study, integration barriers are among the top challenges shippers and 3PLs face when sharing data. “A lot of our customers have had those challenges, and one of the reasons they come to us is because we have expertise in integrations,” Ram said.

The amount of data generated within the supply chain continues to increase, and future success depends on having the right platform to absorb all data sources, including streaming data, which is also on the rise. “Getting streaming data is not easy if we’re not architected correctly. That is how we’re making systems future-proof,” Ram said.

The Future of Data Integrity

As technology changes, it will be necessary for systems to identify which data is human-generated and which data points are generated by artificial intelligence. “We also have a lot of data in an unstructured format. Being able to capture that and generate meaningful insights from it is a huge undertaking. From a technical standpoint, that is different from what we’re used to,” Ram said. “The key lies in developing an overarching strategy to integrate our processes and technical capabilities to unlock business value.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued new requirements for additional traceability records for certain foods, ranging from nut butters to cut veggies to shrimp, under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The requirements, which take effect on Jan. 20, 2026, create new traceability record keeping requirements beyond those in existing regulations for certain foods. All entities in the supply chain will be subject to the Food Traceability Rule.

The FDA said the changes, which require entities to share information with others in the supply chain, will allow for faster identification and rapid removal of potentially contaminated food from the market, resulting in fewer foodborne illnesses and/or deaths.

The list of foods includes some cheeses, eggs, certain vegetables, including cucumbers and leafy greens, some fruits, including melons and tropical tree fruits, fresh-cut fruit and veggies, some fish, nut butters, and ready-to-eat deli salads, such as egg salad, potato salad, pasta salad and seafood salads.

In preparation for the new requirements, which are less than three years away, it’s essential to start evaluating current warehouse management system (WMS) capabilities now to be best prepared for the near future. Since traceability in our food supply chain is essential to providing better service to our customers and end consumers, and a detailed record-keeping system is important for all the foods we handle in our food chain, making updates now will lead to a seamless transition when the new requirements become mandatory.

Key Data Elements and Critical Tracking Events

As part of the rule, those who manufacture, process, pack or hold foods on the Food Traceability List (FTL), must maintain and provide to their supply chain partners specific information — called Key Data Elements (KDEs) — for certain Critical Tracking Events (CTEs), in the food’s supply chain.

For example, if a distribution center (DC) receives the repacked fresh cucumbers from a produce processor, it must keep records on the receiving KDEs of the fresh cucumbers. Since the DC will be shipping the cucumbers to a retail store, it must maintain KDEs related to the shipping of the cucumbers to the next point in the supply chain, the retailer. The DC must also send the KDEs to the retailer.

Records must be kept regarding where the shipping event began and where it ended, meaning where the food was received. Still, the FDA said it is unnecessary to have records of the food's route, including any instances where it may have been moved from one carrier to another. Also, for cross-docking situations where food is arranged for transport from point A to point B but is briefly placed on a loading dock at point X at the DC to be transferred from one truck to another, records don’t need to be kept for point X.

Key Data Elements for those receiving food include:

  • Traceability lot code for the food
  • Quantity and unit of measure of the food
  • Product description for the food
  • Location description for the immediate previous source (other than a transporter) for the food
  • Location description for where the food was received
  • Date the food was received
  • Location description for the traceability lot code source or the traceability lot code source reference
  • Reference document type and reference document number

Key Data Elements (to maintain and provide) for those shipping food include:
  • Traceability lot code for the food
  • Quantity and unit of measure of the food
  • Product description for the food
  • Location description for the immediate subsequent recipient (other than a transporter) for the food
  • Location description for the location from which the food was shipped
  • Date the food was shipped
  • Location description for the traceability lot code source or the traceability lot code source reference
  • Reference document type and reference document number (maintain only)

Traceability Plan

All parties covered by the rule must create a traceability plan, and several are specific to those holding the food, such as a DC. The plan must include a description of the procedures used to maintain the required records, including the format and location of the records. It also needs to have a description of the procedures used to identify foods on the FTL and a statement identifying a point of contact for questions regarding the traceability plan and records. Traceability plans must be updated as needed to ensure the information reflects current practices and previous traceability plans must be maintained for two years after an update.

The Importance of Equipment, Technology and Training

There are several layers to the FSMA, which was signed into law in early 2011, and several requirements apply to the transportation and storing of food. All parties in the supply chain need to ensure they’re complying with current requirements and prepared to meet upcoming compliance dates.

FSMA includes requirements surrounding vehicles and transportation equipment, which must be “adequately cleanable” to allow the sanitary transport of food and “must be stored in a manner that prevents harborage of pests or becoming contaminated in any other manner that could result in food becoming adulterated.”

The ability to track and trace products is at the heart of several requirements, making the right WMS a vital resource. Tier 1 systems provide information on where products are stored and have embedded algorithms that can find ways to maximize productivity and the movement of product in and out of the warehouse.

It is also important for those transporting and storing food to be current on the latest requirements and best practices. Penske Logistics has earned Cold Carrier Certification, adding to its strategic approach to safety. The certification, which is the first of its kind, recognizes cold trucking carrier companies that comply with the Refrigerated Transportation Best Practices Guide from the Global Cold Chain Alliance, a trade association representing all major industries engaged in temperature-controlled logistics. Additionally, Penske associates undergo regular training to ensure food safety.

Foods on the Traceability List

Foods that will be subject to greater requirements in 2026 include:

  • Cheeses, other than hard cheeses
  • Shell eggs
  • Nut butters
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs (fresh)
  • Leafy greens (fresh and fresh cut)
  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Tropical tree fruits
  • Fruits (fresh cut)
  • Vegetables (fresh cut)
  • Finfish
  • Smoked finfish
  • Crustaceans
  • Molluscan shellfish, bivalves
  • Ready-to-eat salads

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