In Pursuit of Fresher, Safer Foods and Drugs

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

Using RFID presents the opportunity "to not just control shrink [from overripe produce], but reduce overall food waste," McCartney adds. More than 36 million tons of food ends up in landfills, where it breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Businesses that accumulate that waste have to pay haulers to dispose of their trash. The FDA cites another economic benefit: Companies that donate wholesome, edible food to food banks or food rescue organizations can claim tax benefits, as well as feed those in need.

It may have taken 10 years to get here, but all the pieces are now in place for widespread adoption of RFID in the cold chain. "As a result of mandates and regulations, participants in the supply-chain ecosystem need to adopt cold-chain monitoring solutions," Frost & Sullivan's Bhattacharya says. "Also, due to higher consumer awareness, supply-chain participants from the manufacturer to the seller are now increasingly using cold-chain monitoring technologies. Technological advances, price decline of RFID tags and convergence of multiple technologies with RFID will boost adoption of RFID in the short term, mid-term and long term."

RFID Proves Its Value in the Pharma Cold Chain
When it comes to transporting temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, biomedical supplies and other life-sciences products, RFID has become an invaluable tool. A number of logistics and cargo services companies, including DHL Global Forwarding, Medlog, Panalpina and Southwest Airlines Cargo, rely on RFID temperature solutions to monitor the condition of products during transit or storage. RFID-tracking shipments improves customer service, ensures the safety and efficacy of products that can impact patients' health, and enables companies to meet government regulations.

By summer 2013, DHL Global Forwarding's LifeConEx group had deployed an RFID infrastructure at more than 15 certified life-sciences stations worldwide, to apply and read sensor tags on containers and pallets of temperature-sensitive health-care and pharmaceutical products. Each sensor tag, manufactured by CAEN RFID, consists of an EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID inlay integrated with a battery-powered temperature logger. The tag's identification number and temperature recordings are captured and then forwarded via a wireless connection to DHL's LifeTrack platform, where the data is interpreted. If temperature readings have deviated from acceptable levels, the system alerts the Global Monitoring Team, which keeps all stakeholders informed in near real time.

Today, DHL Global Forwarding has more than 68 major life-sciences stations worldwide equipped with RFID technology. "It has almost tripled," says LifeConEx CEO David Bang. "What our customers are constantly looking for is visibility, compliance and proactive intervention," he says. "The more dynamically we use technology to offer that to them, the better the customer value is." A large biotech company, whose name Bang says he can't publicly disclose, has leveraged the service and—in conjunction with timely interventions based on temperature readings and process-management advances—"reduced discarded or damaged products by 30 percent."

DHL Global Forwarding is now offering some customers active GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPS (Global Positioning System) devices for more real-time tracking. Last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ruled that small cargo and consumer devices can remain on, in airplane mode, during flights. "There are clearer guidelines now in that area, which promotes the ability to work on more real-time technologies… and promotes a more automated understanding of where a shipment is," Bang says.

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