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International Group Tests RFID for Food Safety to Hawaii

The project is using radio frequency identification and GPS technologies to track the temperature and location of produce as it is shipped from Taiwan and California to Armstrong Produce, a food company in Honolulu.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 10, 2012Ryan Systems, a company founded by John Ryan, a retired quality-assurance administrator at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, has been heading up pilot deployments of a solution that employs radio frequency identification technology to track produce and its temperature as the food is shipped from Taiwan and California, destined for Armstrong Produce, an Hawaiian distributor of fruits and vegetables. The pilots, launched by Ryan Systems with assistance from with Taiwanese supply chain solutions company Global Tracking Systems, were conceived while Ryan was employed at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

Hardware and software vendors have donated their products for the pilot, which demonstrated how the produce's locations and temperatures could be recorded across the supply chain—not only while on trucks, but also on ships—and later retrieved via RFID. The pilots employed handheld readers to download the temperature data, while a future pilot, currently being planned, would involve a shipping container fitted with a device that can collect data (including temperature, humidity and any detection of contaminants and explosives) by means of a built-in RFID reader, and then transmit that information via satellite or cellular communication, thereby making the data available in real time.

Ryan Systems is also carrying out a pilot in Hawaii, involving Intelleflex temperature-sensor tags attached to pallets loaded with produce and shipped to various Armstrong warehouses, as well as to the store.

The Taiwanese and Californian pilots, Ryan says, are part of his effort to develop RFID-based produce-tracking solutions that would span an entire supply chain, rather than just one portion of it. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture had already conducted a series of tests in which passive EPC RFID tags and battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID temperature-sensing tags were used to track the temperatures of products being shipped from farms on three different Hawaiian islands to a supermarket located on Oahu (see Hawaii Plans Trace-Back Program for Fresh Food). Beginning in 2009, the Hawaiian agency, under Ryan's leadership, also began working with Taiwanese supply chain solutions company Asia Pallet Pooling (APP) and GS1 Hong Kong to prepare for the Taiwanese pilot that was then completed by Ryan Systems in November 2011 (see Hawaiian Group Readies Cold-Chain RFID Pilot).

The two November 2011 pilots involved the tagging of cartons filled with produce, however, rather than tagging the pallets on which those cartons were loaded, as had been the case for the previous pilots with which Ryan had been involved. Altogether, 8,500 BAP RFID sensor tags were used for cartons being shipped to Hawaii from the two locations—California and Taiwan.

In California, boxes of fresh produce—including avocados and a variety of fruits and vegetables from several northern San Diego produce farms that are members of California produce firm Guimarra—were tagged with Intelleflex TMT 8500 temperature sensor tags at a packinghouse in Escondido, Calif., after which they were loaded onto pallets and placed in trucks headed for the Port of Los Angeles, where they were transferred to ships destined for Honolulu. At the point at which the cartons were tagged, as well as when they were loaded into and unloaded from containers, the sensor tags were read using Intelleflex HMR-9090 handheld readers, modified from Motorola Solutions MC9090-G readers to include temperature sensor reading capabilities. When the cartons were placed on pallets, and when those pallets were then loaded onto trucks, the handheld readers captured each tag's ID number, as well as temperature readings, and that information was stored on a software application known as ezTrack, hosted by GS1 Hong Kong (see GS1 Hong Kong Launches Online Track-and-Trace Platform), using an application provided by Global Tracking Systems. The software interpreted the sensor data and issued alerts to appropriate parties as necessary, and also stored historical sensor data about each tagged pallet or carton.

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