It took Fonterra five days to isolate the problem during the infamous whey protein concentrate scare of 2013.

Now, the co-operative is on the way to establishing full electronic traceability for all its products, meaning problems can be isolated within just a few hours.

Initial tests showing the product - WPC80 - contained the botulism-causing bacteria turned out to be false, but the event and its resulting infant formula product recall were a big setback for Fonterra.

Traceability has become a big part of the world's food industry, to the point where big British supermarket chain Tesco will not allow its shelves to be stocked with products whose ingredients cannot be swiftly traced back to their source.


Fonterra aims to have electronic product traceability for all its products, in all its markets, by 2020.

By the end of this year 40 per cent of its plants globally will have traceability data electronically connected, and a further 50 per cent of the plants will be included by the end of 2017. The remaining 10 per cent will be completed in 2018/19.

It has been a big undertaking, costing tens of millions of dollars, but Fonterra's general manager trust in source, Tim Kirk, said it had been an essential investment in the future.

"If you go back to the WPC80 incident - that took us four or five days to get that information together to be able to communicate it," he said.

"The tool that we are deploying - the global repository - allows us to do that within a three-hour window," Kirk told the Herald. "It is a significant step-change."

Fonterra has been able to trace products in the past, but through an array of systems involving a mix of electronic information as well as manual logs and spreadsheets.

"What we are aiming for now is world-class electronic product traceability, so if we have any concerns about any product we can electronically trace it anywhere in our supply chain within three hours," Kirk said.

He says that with Fonterra collecting more than 22 billion litres of liquid milk equivalent from 10,500 farmers and operating 34 sites in New Zealand alone, the scale of the job has been significant.

In addition to the major upgrade, Fonterra is strengthening its systems to safeguard consumers using product authentication, tamper-evident packaging and anti-counterfeiting technology.

The company has tamper-evident seals on packaging for all its Anmum-branded products in New Zealand and Indonesia, giving consumers a visible indication of product tampering that could occur after packing.

It is also also rolling out QR codes for Anmum, which consumers can read with a smartphone.

The codes will be progressively introduced from next year.