In Pursuit of Fresher, Safer Foods and Drugs

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

Cost of Cold-Chain Control
Cost has been an issue when it comes to taking advantage of RFID for food cold-chain applications. But the emergence of battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID has helped in addressing this, Frost & Sullivan's Bhattacharya says.

BAP is less expensive than active RFID, and it has technological advantages over sensor-embedded passive RFID, which can be used for cold-chain monitoring in smaller areas and for simpler applications that require recording of maximum and minimum temperatures.

"Recent technological advances make it possible for BAP tags and readers to have high memory, higher read range, faster read rates, and better performance in the presence of liquid, metal and concrete, and in extreme temperature conditions," Bhattacharya says. "All this is available at a much lesser cost, which makes the total cost of acquisition affordable in medium and large projects. The advantages over passive and active RFID make BAP a hot technology choice for cold chain at present."

Still, margins in the food industry are tight, says Stefano Coluccini, CMO at CAEN RFID, so companies are cautious to avoid any unessential expenses. For premium products, it makes sense to incur extra costs, he says. Chocolate maker Lindt & Sprüngli, for example, uses CAEN's temperature technology to assure the correct transport environment for its products.

Hy-Vee and PDI require suppliers to purchase TempTRIP's read-write tags. PDI receives more tags than it needs for outbound deliveries to stores, so it has worked out a return-refund arrangement with TempTRIP, Oberender says. This helps PDI recoup some of the cost of its RFID infrastructure. When necessary, PDI works out funding issues with its suppliers.

While cost can never be ignored, what can't be underestimated as a key factor in moving RFID forward in the food cold chain is that "the importance of freshness continues to be at the forefront of everyone's mind," McCartney says. Walmart and other big retailers, he notes, are beginning to push product sustainability as a scorecard measure for suppliers. "Temperature variation is a key component of how fresh things really can be kept, and [these retailers] are looking for any type of supply-chain optimization to reduce shrink and increase freshness," he says. "When it comes to fruits and vegetables and other perishables, RFID offers a huge uplift in managing the temperature of those assets throughout the cold chain."

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