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San Daniele Prosciutto to Wear RFID Seal of Authenticity

Producers of the region's air-cured ham want to use passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags to protect their brand, tracking the supply chain from slaughterhouse to retailer.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 12, 2008Consorzio del Prosciutto di San Daniele, a consortium of ham producers based in the northeastern Italian city of San Daniele del Friuli, has completed the first phases of an RFID-based pilot designed to track the production of prosciutto and verify its authenticity. The group plans to expand tests of the passive RFID system over the next 12 months, eventually requiring its members to adopt the technology.

Founded in 1961, Consorzio del Prosciutto consists of 29 companies that produce the air-cured ham, as well as more than 5,000 pig breeders and 131 slaughterhouses. Altogether, the members produce 37 million kilos (36,400 tons) of the prosciutto per year.

The consortium has completed the first phases of an RFID-based pilot designed to track the production of prosciutto and verify its authenticity, from slaughterhouse to retailer.

Although San Daniele ham is a trademark protected in 51 countries and registered with the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system, counterfeit versions do turn up, though no statistics are currently available. The main reason the consortium hired consultants to design and test the RFID system was to create a method for verifying a ham's authenticity. The group, however, also sought a way to increase its ongoing efforts to ensure that producers comply with health and hygiene standards. Toward this goal, the consortium eventually hopes to use RFID to track the entire production process, from the time pigs arrive at the slaughterhouse until the prosciutto is sent to warehouses and retail stores.

"We want to protect the consumer so that each person knows the story of each ham through RFID, including when the pig was born and details about its life and death," says Paola Visentin, a spokeswoman for Softwork, the company that designed and tested the system. Softwork functions as an integrator, but its main business is as a distributor of RFID technology. For instance, the company serves as the Italian representative of German reader maker Feig Electronic.

The project began with a feasibility study in late 2005. The first test of the system, conducted in 2006, focused on tracking and authenticating ham at the start of the production process at two factories in San Daniele. Tags were applied manually at the smaller factory, and both manually and automatically at the larger facility.

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