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Improving Food Safety and Quality In China

A platform that uses Internet of Things technologies can be used to monitor the country's food supply.
By Junyu Wang and Hao Min
Aug 16, 2013

In recent years, China has been plagued by tainted milk, pork, rice and other foods that have endangered people's health. As a result, the government has made food safety a top priority. In 2011, the Auto-ID Lab at Fudan University, in Shanghai, began working with 17 other research teams at universities, research institutes and enterprises on a project called Agriculture Internet of Things and Food Safety and Quality. The project, supported by China's Ministry of Science and Technology, uses technologies developed for the Internet of Things (IoT) to track and trace agriculture from the field through the supply chain and in food-processing environments. We have developed a platform that comprises three layers: sensing, communication and application.

The sensing layer is designed to monitor the condition of crops and livestock on farms and in the supply chain with different automatic identification and data capture technologies, based on cost-effectiveness. RFID tags, for example, can be used to identify swine and cattle, as well as cases of high-value meats and fruits. Cases of low-cost fruits can be tracked using 1-D or 2-D bar codes. Wireless sensor networks can monitor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, heavy metals and other environmental conditions in fields, greenhouses and housing for swine and cattle, as well as perishable items during transport.

The communication layer is designed to allow various stakeholders to access supply-chain information. We set up an IoT architecture based on Object Name Service (ONS), so information can be captured and stored on the Web. The China Network Information Center provided the root ONS for this project. Currently, the system tracks by lot level, but it will be able to manage goods at the item level using unique identifiers, such as a Serialized Global Trade Item Number or Global Individual Asset Identifier.

The application layer will support applications and services that could be used by farmers, retailers, the government, analysts and consumers. It includes a database containing China's food safety regulations. Supply-chain partners will be able to analyze data captured from the RFID tags and bar codes to determine product quality and shelf life. Farmers will be able to build their own applications and services—we've created some examples, including "my farm," "my crow house," "my supply chain," "tracking and tracing system" and "recall assistant." Consumers will be able to check product expiration dates, quality guarantee periods, test reports, electronic pedigrees, product photos and videos, and customer evaluations.

The supply chain management system is still in development, but by year-end, we will be able to use it to monitor more than 10 types of food produced in Shandong Province and Shanxi Province, from the field to retailers. In the near future, schools will be able to use the platform to improve food safety for students.

Junyu Wang is an associate director of the Auto-ID Lab at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Hao Min is the lab's research director.

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