In Pursuit of Fresher, Safer Foods and Drugs

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

A technology-agnostic approach is necessary, Bang notes, because not every technology can be applied equally everywhere. Some geographic areas, for example, may not have the ability to put an RFID infrastructure in place, "so maybe automatically uploading data through a GSM or GPS network is better and more efficient," he says. The same customer might use multiple technologies to monitor the same shipment, he explains, to ensure the best visibility and intervention options.

DHL Global Forwarding is also using temperature data to help customers be proactive about future shipments. Customers, for example, could re-engineer their packaging and processes based on real data versus assumptions, Bang says, often in ways that can save them money.

Photos: iStockphoto
Government Regulations Spur Adoption
DHL Global Forwarding's customers also have access to all temperature readings relevant to delivered shipments. They can produce reports for clients and regulatory agencies to show the products were shipped at safe temperatures. Bang and other cold-chain experts believe pharmaceutical and biomedical suppliers will increasingly turn to RFID and other technologies to support regulatory requirements.

"If you distill things to a basic level, regulatory bodies want organizations to demonstrate that they have a risk-based approach when it comes to handling pharmaceuticals or biotech or diagnostic products," Bang says. "The technologies we are talking about help us and our customers have a better understanding of what risks are out there and more proactively, holistically and comprehensively address them."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's track-and-trace mandate doesn't specify that RFID must be used for drug serialization as an anticounterfeiting method. But some pharmaceutical companies are considering using RFID to identify prescription drugs. "I can't think of something that would be as cost-effective [as RFID] to use," says Michael McCartney, managing principal at QLM Consulting, an RFID consulting firm that specializes in cold-chain management. "And if you have to track [drug pedigrees to combat counterfeiting and fraud], you might as well monitor the cold chain, too."

Stefano Coluccini, CMO at CAEN RFID, agrees. "If you want to use serialization effectively, you need to use RFID," he says, because it's not practical to rely on 2-D bar codes that would require manually scanning millions of drug containers at every checkpoint. "Already some of the most advanced pharmaceutical companies are piloting RFID for serialization, and as they build that infrastructure, having RFID temperature loggers will be more natural, too," he says. "They can use the same technology for serialization and cold-chain monitoring."

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