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Businessweek Highlights RFID's Benefits in the Food Chain

An article suggests that the technology can improve food safety by providing better tracking of potentially tainted goods.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 05.04.2011
I often get on the case of the mainstream media and the general business press regarding their gross distortions of radio frequency identification and what it can do, or how it can be abused. So I feel a duty to also point out some of the good things being written. Bill James, of Seeonic, a company that provides RFID-enabled shelf analytics, recently sent me an article appearing in Bloomberg Businessweek, titled "Preventing Food Recalls."

The author, Doug Newman, a senior VP for consumer products at Celerant Consulting, writes that "packages in the food industry are clearly labeled with batch and lot numbers, which are recorded on an automated shipping notice and entered in the Warehouse Management System (WMS). This practice allows companies to track product locations and trace shipments."

Newman adds, "Greater precision is coming down the road, though, in the form of RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags. While the tags have so far proven cost-prohibitive in the food industry at large, adoption will eventually mean that tracking can be carried deeper—down to a single package's location and storage requirements."

Actually, RFID enables much more than serialization at the item level—it allows for the accurate collection of data in a cost-effective way. It's true that pallets and some cases have serialized bar codes in the food industry enabling the tracking of lots. The problem is that bar-code scanning requires workers to do something—namely, scan a bar code. Unfortunately, they don't always do that, and when they do, they don't always do so correctly.

Imagine that a truck driver is delivering pallets of foodstuffs to a store late on a hot afternoon after being stuck in traffic for two hours. He wants to get home and see his kids. Does he remember to scan the bar code on each pallet? Perhaps. But if he fails to do so, visibility into that item's location is lost.

RFID systems do not get distracted, tired or angry. As long as they don't break down, they collect data all the time with a very high level of accuracy. This is important, because it's the ability to capture data every time an item moves that leads to visibility into its location. Scanning bar codes at each node along the supply chain is prohibitively expensive. RFID is becoming less costly, so it will provide accurate, near-real-time visibility. That will enable companies to quickly recall problem products—which will, in turn, reduce the incidence of food-borne illnesses and protect the brands in which food companies invest so heavily.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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