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Cold-Chain Project Reveals Temperature Inconsistencies

Deloitte Consulting worked with the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center to offer Chiquita insight into the temperature history of perishables in transit.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 01, 2006The introduction of refrigerated cargo containers revolutionized long-distance commerce, enabling the transport of tropical fruit and other goods to Alaska and other distant locations. However, Doug Standley, a senior manager with Deloitte Consulting's technology-innovation practice, believes the means by which companies monitor fresh foods in transit needs to evolve.

Working with Chiquita Brands International and the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, Deloitte initiated a project this year to develop a method for monitoring and controlling the conditions to which fresh or perishable products are exposed while moving through the cold-chain distribution system. RFID is one technology the organizations used to improve visibility into the temperatures inside refrigerated cargo containers.

Doug Standley
"Sometimes, a whole load [of perishable goods] is rejected based on a temperature taken at the back of the container," Standley says. "But that's wasteful, because the temperature in the back of the container is likely different than that in the front." At least, that's the theory Deloitte set out to prove. "We said, 'We bet there are microclimates inside the container.' That was the purpose of the pilot: to understand the environment inside the container."

For the tests, the RFID Research Center used KSW Microtec battery-assisted passive RFID tags with integrated temperature sensors. Staff members placed a tag in each pallet containing fresh fruit, and loaded the pallets onto two refrigerated cargo containers. Wired temperature loggers were also installed throughout each load.

Before performing in-transit temperature-tracking, says Bill Hardgrave, director of the center, the staff measured temperatures within zones inside a 40-foot-long refrigerated container at the Research Center, both loaded and unloaded. This allowed them to establish a baseline performance of the container's temperature-control system. . The average temperature in each pallet in the static container, they found, was higher than that to which the container's thermostat had been set, but never by more than 1.3 degrees Celsius.

For the in-transit tests, researchers logged temperatures on the onboard memory of the KSW tags inside a 40-foot container carrying 20 pallets of fruit and a 43-foot container holding 22 pallets. . A handheld interrogator collected the tag data once the containers arrived at their destinations. Compared with the stationary container in the RFID Research Center, the temperatures inside the in-transit containers were higher overall, while the temperature variations within the containers were sizable, based on the location of each pallet in the container.

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