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At Manor, RFID Keeps Food From Spoiling

The Swiss company is using active tags with built-in sensors to measure and log the temperatures of freezers and refrigerators. Later this year, it hopes to expand the application to track perishable foods as they move through the supply chain.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 01, 2008Switzerland's largest retail chain, Manor, is using ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) active RFID tags with built-in sensors to measure and log the temperatures of 1,800 freezers and refrigerators every 10 minutes. A team monitors the fixtures' temperatures during operating hours at about 30 of the company's supermarkets across the country.

Starting this month, the team will use the system to track temperatures after hours, when the stores are closed. The company is also developing plans to expand the application so it can track refrigerated and frozen food as it moves from a supplier to Manor's distribution centers, then on to its retail outlets.

Manor deployed temperature-measuring RFID tags in 1,800 freezers and refrigerators.

In 2003, Manor sought a way to reduce incidences of food spoiling by not being kept sufficiently cold. Working with Swiss integrator IP01 SA, Manor considered a variety of technologies, such as passive RFID, but ultimately decided on battery-powered RFID tags because of the ease of implementation.

"Freezers unexpectedly turned off, and Manor needed better visibility of the situation in stores," says Ruud Riem-Vis, IP01's CTO and founder. "The management in Basel and Geneva didn't have a clue of what was going on in stores." Riem-Vis says temperatures dropped when workers forgot to turn on freezers and refrigerators after cleaning them, or to reset blown fuses. "The store managers were ultimately responsible, but sometimes it took too long for them to detect if a freezer went out," he explains.

What's more, Swiss laws require that stores monitor temperatures several times per day. Manor sought a system that would eliminate or reduce the effort of this manual compliance task.

The project began with a pilot in 2003 that ran a year and a half at a single store in Neuchâtel, near IP01's offices. During this time, IP01 and Manor adapted the system, known as Place and Track, to determine the best method for transmitting only critical information, such as unacceptable rises in temperature. Manor did not want to be flooded with data that was difficult to interpret.

Manor and IP01 established various rules so the system would alert operators if specific conditions were met. For instance, alerts are sent automatically if a refrigerator containing fish becomes warmer than 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) or colder than -1 Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit).

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