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Beef Tracking, the RFID Way

Canadian beef producer uses an RFID-based system to monitor the processing of cattle carcasses at its plant, as well as the location of each animal's meat throughout the supply chain.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 23, 2006Canadian beef producer Atlantic Beef Products (ABP), headquartered in Albany, Prince Edward Island, is using hooks embedded with RFID chips to track beef as it is processed throughout its facility. The goal is to be able to provide the Canadian Food Inspection Agency information on the location of any butchered cow in the plant, as well as maintain an electronic record of what animals are in any package that leaves the plant. This will enable Atlantic Beef to swiftly conduct recalls of all packaged meat specific to a contaminated animal or animals, should this become necessary.

Merit-Trax Technologies and Psion Teklogix designed and installed the system, which includes Psion Teklogix's 7035 handheld RFID interrogator and bar code scanner, Syscan International fixed readers and hooks with embedded 134.2 kHz RFID tags, and Merit-Trax software to integrate reader data into ABP's database. The Psion Teklogix readers have a frost-free feature. This includes an internal heater to eliminate moisture build-up inside the devices, enabling them to scan bar-coded labels and RFID tags in freezers (-35 degrees Celsius) and coolers (-8 Celsius).

ABP's Paul Arsenault
"We wanted a system that would track animals 100 percent throughout the plant," says ABP controller, Paul Arsenault. Live cattle arrive at the plant with bar-coded or 125-kHz RFID tags attached to their ears, and employees use the Psion Teklogix 7035 handheld readers to capture either the bar-code or RFID tag number. This data links to a Canadian Cattle Identification Agency database with all the animal's health record and life history, including where it was born, where it has traveled, and when.

The plant is equipped with about 500 RFID-enabled hooks on which a slaughtered cow is hung. When the cow is slaughtered, the employee takes a final scan of the cow's bar-code or RFID ear tag with the handheld reader. That number is then recorded in a database for the Marel meat-processing equipment that APB uses, and is linked to the RFID number on the next two hooks that come down the production line, on which the carcass is hung. This creates an electronic record linking a specific animal to specific hooks, so that it can be located in the plant at any time. The Merit-Trax Technologies' Trax-IT software suite integrates the reader data that will be used for invoicing, food labeling and shipping.

There are six fixed RFID readers at specific points in the processing line, including at the starting point where the animal is slaughtered and at the area where Canadian Food Inspection Agency employees inspect the carcass. The fixed reader at the inspection area captures the RFID number assigned to that animal, and transmits it to the ABP database, which in turn routes data to the touch screen attached to the ABP Ethernet wired data collection terminal, provided by Symcod.

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