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University Takes a Fresh Approach to RFID

The University of Florida's Center for Food Distribution and Retailing is finding ways to make RFID tags work on produce shipments and keep perishable food from spoiling.
By Jonathan Collins
"If you put a tag in a bowl of water, the signal will be absorbed and there is no way to trigger [interrogate] a tag," Edmond says. "But freeze the water and we can read the tag perfectly. That's something we can use."

If a company were to place a tag in the middle of a pallet of unfrozen items—a common practice—it would know for certain that the load is completely frozen the moment the tag was read. "That would save doubt and additional time spent in the freezer," says Emond.

In a project for an international airline, the research center worked to determine the best way to use RFID to track perishable goods inside unit load devices (ULD)—large metal containers that are loaded onto airplanes. In this example, the CFDR discovered the container’s metal could be used to aid RFID reads.

"The ULD acts like a microwave oven, bouncing the signal around inside to get very high read rates," says Emond. The work, which was carried out as a student project, will help the airline determine how to use RFID to track tagged shipments, both to improve its ability to provide manifests of its cargo quickly, and to track the condition of produce within the ULD.

Later this year, the CFDR expects to start work with the Publix Super Markets chain to investigate the potential for using RFID to track produce shipments to its distribution center and other locations.

According to Emond, plenty of work still needs to be done to understand how RFID can be used throughout the fresh-food supply chain. Still, he is convinced an academic institution, aided by industry partners, is the best place to carry out much of that groundwork. "This couldn't be done by a single company. We can say what we see and what we think will help, but good news or bad news, it has to get out there," says Emond.

Perhaps with more work and more understanding of RFID, Emond just might get that Ferrari to purr.

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