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Campbell Uses RFID Sensor Tags to Test Cooking Equipment

The soup company inserts tiny RFID sensors into chunks of meat, vegetables or potatoes to track the temperatures of a soup mixture as it travels through a network of heating pipes.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 05, 2015

The Campbell Soup Co. is employing an RFID-based solution to test the operation of its aseptic cooking system, by measuring the temperatures of chunks of meat and vegetables as they travel through heating pipes through which a soup's liquid and solid ingredients pass and are cooked prior to being packaged. The system consists of a low-frequency (LF) RFID temperature sensor tag inserted in a solid piece of food, as well as RFID readers with antennas wrapped around certain sections of pipe. The technology, provided by Phase IV Engineering, is being used at Campbell's research and development laboratory at its world headquarters in Camden, N.J., to determine whether the continuous-heating system is bringing the soup's ingredients to the proper internal temperature, before the heating system is actually used at the processing plant. (The sensors are being utilized only for testing the heating system, and never to track the temperatures in batches of food intended for human consumption.)

The Campbell Soup Co. has several processes for cooking its products before selling them to consumers. In some cases, Campbell's Soup is cooked in a process known as continuous cooking, by way of a long, heated, stainless steel pipe extending to the factory's packaging area. As the soup passes through the pipe, the heating elements raise its temperature high enough to cook it and ensure aseptic conditions, not only in the liquid, but also at the center of any solids. The cooked soup is then cooled and poured into sterilized packaging.

Mohammed Karkache (left), and Rasheed Mohammed balancing one of Phase IV's LF RFID sensor tags on the tip of his finger. (Photo provided by Campbell Soup Co.)
Making sure that a specific pipe heats a soup mixture to the proper temperature requires some research and development work. Insufficient heat could lead to critical problems, but excessive heat isn't desirable either, since that could affect the soup's taste or consistency, as well as waste energy.

Approximately four years ago, the soup company began seeking a technological solution to measure the interior temperatures of solid food particles (which can be the most difficult part of the soup to cook properly, and the most difficult ingredient to measure for temperature). "Campbell was looking for a partner that could manufacture and deliver an RFID device that could measure temperature in a small footprint," says Rasheed Mohammed, the company's senior program manager for science and technology. Campbell needed to monitor temperatures with a device that could withstand the aseptic process conditions, he adds, and at a reasonable cost. In addition, it needed to be able to track the temperatures in food chunks as they moved relatively quickly through the heating piping.

"An initial search led us to discuss this opportunity with Phase IV," Mohammed says. "Our role was to manage the project and relationship, as well as help lead the design and testing of the devices and system."

Scott Dalgleish, Phase IV Engineering's CEO, says, "Campbell needed an incredibly small sensor. It had to have such a small thermal mass that it wouldn't affect the temperature of the meat. They needed to be able to read the temperature as the meatball was moving, without influencing the heating process in any way."

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