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Norwegian Group Tracks Super-Chilled Meat

The project was designed to study the ability of RFID sensor tags to track the temperatures of fresh legs of lamb as they were transported by truck from slaughterhouse to distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 02, 2011The super-chilling of food products below the freezing point to stop bacteria growth is fairly commonplace with fish, according to Geir Vevle, the CTO of technology provider Hrafn, based in Norway. Although the same process could also stop bacteria growth in meat products (thereby extending the meat's shelf life by weeks), few meat producers or companies in the supply chain super-chill meat, he says, because the temperature threshold is very tight. Temperatures must remain colder than 0 degrees Celsius (+32 degrees Fahrenheit), but not fall below -1.7 degrees Celsius (+28.9 degrees Fahrenheit), Vevle explains, or the quality of the fresh meat could degrade. Ensuring that temperatures stay within those perimeters can be difficult, he adds. Therefore, Hrafn, along with slaughterhouse Fatland Ølen and research organization Sintef, recently tested the use of RFID technology to track the temperatures of super-chilled meat products being transported from an abattoir to a distribution center in Norway.

The pilot was funded by a Norwegian government research council, as part of Norway's KMB Lønnsom foredling (profitable processing) project, to improve and secure marine and agricultural food processing within that country. The KMB project includes plans to use technology to improve hygiene, cold chains and fresh-food traceability.

Hrafn installed an RFID sensor tag on the truck's ceiling and four on each sidewall, in order to detect temperature variations throughout the vehicle's interior.

The temperature-tracking system, with RFID technology developed for Sintef by Hrafn, included RFID temperature sensor tags, passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and 2-D bar-coded labels, as well as software based on EPCglobal's EPC Information Services (EPCIS) standard. The test was intended to ascertain the benefit of RFID UHF technology used in conjunction with temperature sensors, data loggers and a cellular connection, to monitor and transmit temperature data during the transport of chilled meat. While the study found, in fact, that the information could be collected by an EPCIS system, most of the RFID sensor tags were not read by the interrogator within the truck, because their signals were unable to pass through the densely packed meat. However, after the meat was removed from the truck, the researchers were able to collect the shipment's temperature history by downloading information recorded by the data logger.

After Fatland slaughters and processes lamb at its Ølen facility, the company super-chills the meat prior to shipping it to its Trondheim distribution center. For the pilot, Hrafn equipped one truck with an RFID reader cabled to a computer equipped with a GPS unit and a GSM radio that could transmit data via a cellular connection to Hrafn's EPCIS-based software. The goal, the company reports, was to test the sensor tags' ability to verify that the meat was stored at the desired temperature (between 0 and -1.7 degrees Celsius) within the refrigerated truck for the duration of the 14-hour journey to the Trondheim DC.

Hrafn inserted the sensor tags' probes into legs of lamb, to measure temperatures within the meat itself.

Hrafn and Sintef spent two months studying the meat-chilling and transportation processes, testing the placement of tags in meat and within the truck, and establishing the EPCIS data-management application. The group selected RFID hardware from CAEN RFID, including two models of semi-passive UHF EPC Gen 2 sensor tags—the A927Z, a temperature logger with 16 kilobytes of memory (sufficient to record 8,000 temperature readings), and the A927ZET, which has an external probe so that it could be used to measure the internal temperature of a leg of lamb. For the test, carried out on Nov. 23, the truck was chilled using two cold-air blowers. Hrafn deployed nine A927Z RFID temperature sensor tags around the vehicle's interior (one on the ceiling and four on each sidewall), in order to detect whether temperatures differed in various areas located either near or farther away from those blowers. Hrafn also inserted the probes of four A927ZET tags into four legs of lamb, in order to test any temperature fluctuations within the meat itself.

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