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Norwegian Food Group Nortura to Track Meat

The company's IT subsidiary, Matiq, is teaming with IBM to deploy a system that uses RFID to track meat from the slaughterhouse to the store.
By Claire Swedberg
"It's a very complicated problem [requiring the participation of multiple parties, including farmers, processors, distributors and retailers]," Bergquist says. "But we have been discussing it with IBM for some time, and would like to be able to trace an animal from birth to the plate." Because Nortura is the nation's largest meat provider and is involved in such a high percentage of Norway's meat production, he explains, "Matiq has quite a bit of knowledge of various steps of the operation and the complexity of operations. That puts us in a good position to be addressing it."

IBM is providing Matiq with software, in addition to consulting and integration services to help the company develop a system in which Nortura can share data with supply chain members. The software, based on EPCglobal's Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard, will enable those members to share information related to the tags, and to the items to which they are attached.

Norwegian meat initially undergoes a variety of processes before reaching a retailer. The animals are raised in Norway on hundreds of farms, then transported to facilities such as Nortura's meat-production factories to be butchered. The meat is cut into large pieces, then smaller ones, and is processed, packaged and shipped to a variety of distribution centers. It is then sent to one of thousands of Norwegian food stores.

For phase one of the RFID pilot, Nortura is applying adhesive passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags to plastic totes at its Tonsberg and Forus plants. When sheep, cattle or pigs are butchered, the meat will be placed in plastic totes. The unique Electronic Product Code (EPC) number encoded to a tote's tag will then be read by an Impinj or Intermec fixed interrogator as the container travels along a conveyor belt, and be linked to data input by factory employees regarding the meat that was just cut. That information includes the farm of origin, the type of meat (pork, lamb or beef) and the animal's age and health records. Large slabs of meat, however, will not be included in this phase of the pilot, as they will not fit in the totes, which measure 16 by 24 by 7 inches.

When a tote is moved to the next stage—which consists generally of slicing the meat into smaller pieces and processing it (such as grinding it into sausage and hamburger, or curing it to become ham)—it will pass another RFID reader, which will capture the tote's ID number once more, recording the time, date and location. The tote will then pass another interrogator once the meat is packaged and delivered in that tote to the distribution center. If, at any time during the process, the meat is transferred to another tote, that data will be input to the system as well.

Throughout the process, Bergquist says, the tote will undergo several washing cycles and pass through very cold environments, so the tag needs to be very robust. IBM and Matiq have tried several tags in search of one that will not be damaged by the rigors of meat processing and washing, but the companies have yet to determine which tag will be used in the pilot. Eventually, Bergquist notes, the company may seek to have the tags embedded in the totes.

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