Hawaiian produce trial will track pallets of produce from Taiwan starting next month

In case you missed last week’s issue, we’ve posted our lead story here:

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is a leader when it comes to piloting RFID for food safety. In May, the department began shipping 70 RFID-enabled pallets of produce between distribution centers on the islands of Maui, Hawaii and Oahu to monitor shipping temperatures and to learn how variances in temperature impact produce.

The Hawaii Produce Traceability Initiative is ready to take its next step, which will occur in late September when a pallet of produce is shipped from Taiwan carrying RFID and GPS technology. The pallet will be tracked from the pallet build level in Taiwan, although the program’s partners in Taiwan want to extend the project and tag produce immediately after it is harvested in the field.

“This is an opportunity to establish a working relationship on food safety with other countries and cooperatively develop the technology,” says John Ryan, the retired head of Hawaii’s quality assurance office, and now a principal with Ryan Systems. “We think that in the not too distant future, something like this could become a standard.”

Taiwan-based Asia Pallet Pooling is providing the plastic pallets for the pilot project, as well as much of the funding. Intelleflex has been selected to supply the battery assisted passive RFID tags for the project. The DCs are operated by Armstrong Produce. Ryan says that he is also working with the Riverside County (Calif.) Economic Development Association with the hope of tagging pallets of perishables flowers or dairy items destined for Taiwan later this year.

“We want to help the exporters out as well,” says Ryan. “The idea is to not only determine why spoilage is happening, but to work together to and try and prevent produce losses from occurring altogether. The food supply chain has a ways to go when it comes to how to manage product better.”

Intelleflex says that one-third of all fresh produce spoils before reaching the retail market, resulting in $35 billion of losses annually. On that note, Intelleflex is seeing a rapid demand in pilots for fresh produce tracking, as well as for temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals. Kevin Payne, the company’s senior director of marketing, expects to see deployments ramp up as early as this fall.

“We’re seeing more pilots, especially in the grower and shipper area, and we’re seeing a lot of interest in the earlier edge of cold chain at the production level because the real cost burden is on the growers and the packers,” says Payne.

Retailers are typically less motivated to install technology to monitor temperature control and spoilage because they usually push costs on to the consumer, or back up the cold chain. “They are less motivated financially,” says Payne. “It’s the growers and packers who are paying for the one-third of produce that spoils in transit, so we’re seeing an uptick in the number of growers and shippers interested in the technology.”

Intelleflex tags and readers provide on-demand, data visibility solutions for cold chain and asset management applications. Its battery-assisted passive RFID technology enables condition monitoring of individual products on loaded pallets or totes from a range of up to 300 feet and can penetrate packaging. That means that users can make informed decisions on product shipment, inventory and product rotation that can reduce shrink in perishable foods and guarantee efficacy of pharmaceuticals.

Intelleflex hopes to announce the results of a study soon that shows the effects of temperature swings on shelf life. “Our tests have generated some real interesting data for fresh produce, as far as monitoring temperature of products and the impact on shelf life from both the field to the pack house as well as the pack house to the DC,” says Payne. “The data has been extremely compelling in that we are finding significant amounts of variation between each hand off point in the cold chain.”

“We’re hoping to see a significant number of customers adopting this technology starting this fall based on the level of pilot activity and the inquiries we’ve had,” says Payne.

Of course, the ROI of less than four months achieved during one pilot, or one growing season, is opening a lot of eyes when it comes to deploying the technology through the produce cold chain.

The technology has also caught the eyes of the insurance industry. This week Intelleflex announced a unique partnership with The Hartford Financial Services Group, in which both companies will explore insurance-related opportunities to reduce the amount of produce lost and improve the overall quality of produce during the distribution process from the grower to the retailer. The partnership, which is through The Hartford’s corporate venture division Hartford Ventures, may also enable The Hartford to enhance its loss control and underwriting practices based on results from RFID tagging.

In many cases, the billions in losses each year from spoiled produce are covered by insurance companies like The Hartford. In this case, RFID could help to not only limit those financial payouts, but also cut down on the huge amount of paperwork and investigative research that goes into each claim.

“Identifying cold chain issues quickly and routing perishables based on remaining shelf life are critical to enhancing customer profitability and operational effectiveness,” says Alexander McGinley, marine underwriting officer at The Hartford. “This new technology will help our customers decrease the amount of produce wasted due to temperature variations.”


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