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DOD Considers RFID-based Solutions for Tracking Food's Shelf Life

A recent report written by a team of researchers describes how RFID technology, in conjunction with algorithms they developed, can be used to track the temperature conditions of rations, and calculate the spoilage rate and therefore shipment schedule.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 11, 2014

The U.S. Department of Defense is reviewing the results of a two-part, five-year research project conducted by members of academia and RFID industry to study the tracking of food rations destined for military troops, and the shelf life based on storage and transportation conditions of those rations. The project aimed at determining whether software along with temperature sensors and RFID technology could be employed to monitor the varying environmental conditions to which rations have exposed, and to revise expiration dates accordingly. By doing so, the system could also then instruct staff as to which items should be shipped to troops, where, to ensure nothing spoils or expires.

The solution poses potential benefit not only for the military but also for the commercial market. That's due to the fact that an RFID-based system, and software interpreting sensor-based data from that system, could ensure the conditions of perishable items are tracked and their movement to retail stores is modified according to those conditions, thereby ensuring fewer items spoil or must be discarded before they reach the consumers' plates, says one of the project's co-directors, Ismail Uysal, who is also director of the USF RFID Center for Applied Research at the University of South Florida (USF), and assistant professor of electrical engineering.

USF's Ismail Uysal
Uysal says the study has proven that technology is capable of enabling the military or the commercial food industry to better ensure products are not wasted. And that is not a small problem, he says. According to a paper published in 2009 by researchers affiliated with National Institutes of Health (NIH), as much as 40 percent of food in the United States ends up not in consumers' kitchens, but discarded—in large part due to spoilage somewhere in the supply chain, or as a result of conditions in the supply chain. He says the researchers' next goal, therefore, is to help educate the market about the value of such a solution.

The team has consisted of faculty members not only at the University of Florida but also from the Florida Polytechnic University (Florida Poly) and Georgia Institute of Technology and the CEO of technology company Franwell. Researchers used off-the-shelf temperature-sensing tags and readers, and developed software with an algorithm developed to identify the expected expiration (spoilage) date of a food product based on the conditions it was exposed to. The software approach, Uysal explains, differentiates between a static shelf life identified by an expiration date (the date stamped on a food ration based on optimal storage conditions) and a dynamic shelf life that changes according to the items conditions.

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