In Pursuit of Fresher, Safer Foods and Drugs

Soon, RFID-monitoring perishables in transit and storage will be the new normal.
By Jennifer Zaino

Since this spring, Hy-Vee has been using TempTRIP ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags to monitor additional temperature-sensitive products, including all frozen goods, deli meats, prepared salads, ice cream and produce, says Kyle Oberender, PDI's director of safety. What's more, he says, "we now have nearly half of our retail stores connected online with readers, with the other half to be wrapped up around the end of the calendar year. Procedures, policies and training have been more fine-tuned, and the overall outlook is very good with the results we are seeing."

This will mark the first time RFID readers have been installed at every one of a supermarket's retail stores for outbound-to-retail temperature tracking, says TempTRIP CTO Leland Curkendall. "Traditionally, it's been from the supplier to the distribution centers," he says. With the retail RFID infrastructure in place, it becomes easier for store managers to make smart merchandising decisions to support customer retention.

Hy-Vee is tracking the temperatures of perishables from its distribution centers to retail stores, to enable store managers to make smart merchandising decisions to support customer retention (photo: Perishable Distributors of Iowa).
Say, for example, an RFID read at a store shows that one shipment of blueberries had experienced temperature variation exposures that were enough to significantly affect shelf life. If the affected blueberries have only five days of shelf life left rather than the expected 10, the store manager could put them out at a discounted price so they would move quickly, Curkendall says. That way, everyone wins—the store doesn't take the big hit it would have if the berries went bad and remained unsold, and the customer gets a good deal, too.

"If you can keep 1 percent of customers from switching because they didn't like your produce, that's a bigger play than simply rejecting spoiled products," Curkendall says. "By limiting the stress of acceptable incoming products, grocers will have better products to attract and retain customers, and customers will have a more favorable experience with the products when they get them home."

RFID temperature-tracking solutions are being deployed worldwide. In Sweden, for example, SydGrönt, which facilitates sales, logistics and distribution of produce from farmers in southern Sweden to major grocery chains, is using CAEN RFID's semipassive UHF logger tags and easy2log software. On a large scale, manual temperature loggers aren't useful, says SydGrönt's IT manager, Martin Dahn, in a YouTube video about the project. RFID automates the process, making it very easy.

A new division of a large third-party logistics provider has multiple RFID cold-chain trials under way for its global network of growers and the groceries, restaurants and other venues they supply, says Michael McCartney, managing principal at QLM Consulting, which specializes in cold-chain management. While McCartney is not at liberty to name the logistics provider, he says, "They are very interested in providing premium services to their suppliers."

New Cold-Chain Applications
Cold-chain monitoring doesn't stop when perishables arrive at retail stores. To ensure food safety, most states require stores to keep track of temperatures in coolers and freezers, says TempTRIP's Curkendall. Typically, employees read temperature gauges on these cases twice a day, and write down their readings to provide an audit trail for regulatory agencies. The manual process is time-consuming and error-prone, he says.

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