Where Does Your Food Come From? RFID Knows.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @ 10:05 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Supply Chain, Cold Chain, Food & Beverage

Each year about 1 in 6 people in the United States gets sick from eating contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Salmonella is responsible for many of the reported outbreaks and causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food. While E. Coli infections have been drastically reduced, there has been no reduction in people getting sick from Salmonella.

One way to cut down on illness caused by Salmonella is to apply lessons learned from past outbreaks as depicted below.

Farm Table

View larger version of the diagram (source: CDC)

Efforts to educate about prevention can be supplemented by enhancing the traceability of food shipments within the supply chain. The Food Safety Modernization Act calls for the FDA to focus on new food traceability rules to prevent contamination.

A report issued recenlty by ABI Research, “RFID-enabled Food Safety and Traceability Systems,”  reviews the Food Safety Modernization Act and provides forecasts for the use of RFID-enabled devices in cold chain applications. RFID allows the food industry to trace food items and record environmental conditions throughout the entire supply chain.

Sensors in RFID tags monitor the temperature and humidity of products. They can detect if the temperature for a specific food item goes above or below the ideal temperature, at any given time, and record that detail. Tags can be used on anything in the supply chain from the farms, to slaughterhouses, to pallets, to shipping containers, to grocery stores. Even the cows and pigs can be tagged.

You may remember the Orange Juice recall from this past January. CNNMoney noted that if there is wide adoption of a traceability solution in the industry, it could stop the contaminated food from being put onto store shelves in the first place, and help stop outbreaks before they start.

Aside from preventing food borne illnesses, ABI Research also points out that the information delivered by an RFID traceability solution could have a significant impact on the $35 billion a year in wasted produce. With the environment detail captured by the RFID readers during the supply chain, a grocer or manufacturer can determine precisely which containers were exposed to temperatures outside of the ideal range, and discard only those containers instead of discarding the entire shipment.

The prevention of waste or food borne illness is enough to warrant an RFID food traceability mandate in my book. Being able to impact both? I’ll let you do the math.

RFID Making Fresh Produce Cool

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Cold Chain, Temperature Monitoring

Cold ChainI have to admit that I buy organic milk, not just because I think it’s healthier for my family, but because I can stock up on it without the risk that it’ll go bad before we use it. Why does organic milk have such a longer shelf-life than regular milk? Maybe they’ve figured out something that the others haven’t. Maybe it’s Intelleflex.

Recently, the company developed what they call the Cool Chain Quick Scan. It helps farmers and shippers identify spots in their temperature-controlled supply chain - or cold chain - to improve freshness. This may sound familiar to you because during our 100 Uses of RFID program, we blogged about RFID enabling temperature tracking in real-time for sensitive, pharmaceutical shipments. Now we learn about it being used to track produce temperatures, which makes a ton of sense. 

The time for fresh produce to be harvested, cooled, processed and shipped can vary by hours and is influenced by several external factors beyond the farm. Air temperatures of refrigerated vehicles add to the complexity because they vary significantly, potentially causing the food to go bad before it reaches the store. That could explain the condition of the avocados I see in my supermarket.

The Cool Chain Quick Scan replaces guesswork, visual inspections and First In/First Out inventory methods, with a snapshot of the cold chain. It identifies, measures and documents the impact of the temperatures on the produce. The monitoring is continuous - from the field, to the pack house, through distribution, and finally the retail store. It sounds tedious, but with RFID, it’s easy and cost-effective.

RFID tags that use light, temperature and humidity sensors, are placed on the produce and processed as usual. For example, tags could be placed with produce in the field during harvest, or in pallets being transported from the pack house to distribution centers. Readers and condition monitoring tags use battery-assisted, passive RFID to read through pallets and containers with precision. The tags are removed at the pack house and mailed back to Intelleflex for analysis that is included in a detailed report, including:

  • Temperature variation that the product is experiencing
  • Amount of shelf life lost due to temperature issues
  • Impact on customer satisfaction
  • Recommendations to improve temperature management

This level of reporting can help farmers, distributors and retailers develop cold chain best practices.

By transforming climate monitoring from trailer-, container- and warehouse-tracking devices to individual pallet tags, RFID can give fresh produce suppliers detailed visibility into the lifecycle of the produce. They can use this new found visibility and resulting best practices to reduce shrink and improve profitability. Every fresh produce supplier’s dream come through thanks to – of all things - RFID.

IBM on Building a Smarter Planet

Posted by Yael Maguire on Mon, Feb 02, 2009 @ 04:48 PM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Supply Chain, Cold Chain, USB RFID reader, IBM

IBM's new Building a Smarter Planet blog has an interesting video describing how interconnected intelligent systems are being used to build a smarter planet.

IBM is defining the smarter planet as "intelligent infrastructure for our energy grids, transportation system, food supply and healthcare networks... It is also about trillions of devices and objects connecting to the Internet and changing the way billions of people live and work.'

The video describes how RFID will be used across the food chain to insure safety and reduce waste and loss.

Today, ThingMagic and several of our business partners are working on making our global food chain more secure, safe and efficient.

One example is the cold chain, where our USB Reader is being used to read temperature sensors made by Infratab Corporation. The combination of Infratab sensors and ThingMagic readers provide producers of perishable foods and products information and insights on the quality of their cold chains.

Infratab is offering a cold chain starter kit – including the ThingMagic USB Reader - now through March.

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