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SYSCO Gets Fresh With RFID

Using RFID-enabled temperatures sensors, wholesale food distributor SYSCO and its suppliers and shippers reduce and track spoilage.
By Jonathan Collins
Jun 13, 2005Wholesale food distributor SYSCO and its suppliers and shippers wanted a way to reduce the likelihood of produce and frozen food becoming spoiled during shipment. And when spoilage did occur, they wanted to be able to identify when and where it happened. In May, the food distributor took part in a trial that used RFID-enabled sensors to track the temperature of food while in transit. When the trial was over, the participants believed the RFID system they tested could not only help ensure the freshness of produce and frozen food that SYSCO distributes, it could also record every instance the doors of a refrigerated trailer were opened, thereby monitoring any irregular behavior that could compromise the food supply.

North America's largest wholesale food distributor, SYSCO comprises 60 operating companies selling ingredients and food preparation, serving items to food-service operators across the United States and Canada. The firm has more than 400,000 customers and 157 locations throughout the contiguous United States and Canada, and in 2004 it registered nearly $30 billion in sales. SYSCO believes RFID tags could provide a better way to document the condition of the food in any shipment, and an accurate way to pinpoint when and why a shipment has been spoiled—and, thus, which member of the supply chain was responsible. Typically, when a problem occurs in transit, the shipper, carrier and receiver split the cost three ways.


Maintaining a proper temperature while transporting produce and frozen food is vital for preventing spoilage.

While each shipment is insured, the inability to accurately apportion blame for spoilage can result in increased insurance premiums. Therefore, if a company were to use RFID technology to prove it was not responsible for damaging a shipment, it could lower its insurance rates.

Third-party logistics software specialists 3PL Solutions worked with SYSCO and its suppliers and shippers to test 3PL's RFID-enabled Distribution Access eXception (DAX) temperature-monitoring system. The DAX system uses Alien Technology's ALB-2482 RFID tags. The firm chose the 2.4 GHz battery-assisted passive Alien tags as a base for its system design because the 2.4 GHz frequency the tag uses is cleared for use internationally.

At 3PL's request, Alien added an infrared port to the ALB-2482 tags so they could be read not only by RFID readers up to 100 feet (30 meters) away, but also at close range and with line of sight by infrared-enabled devices such as PCs or PDAs.

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