Wireless technology helping keep food safe

March 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A new kind of "green" technology is beginning to appear in some grocery shipments.

It's Silicon Valley's response to the new Food Safety Modernization Act signed by President Obama just weeks ago. Here, Richard Hart reports on the Drive to Discover a better way to fight food spoilage.

Green tags are a new weapon against spoilage. By most accounts, one-third of all fruits and vegetables are discarded somewhere between the field and the customer because it is so difficult to monitor the shelf life of produce. A temperature variation of just 2 degrees during shipment can cut 4 days off the life of berries and bananas. Current technology monitors only a whole truck, regardless of which side travels in the sun or other factors. This technology, on the other hand, records what happens to every palette, every minute, every step of the way.

Peter Mehring, CEO of Santa Clara's Intelleflex says, "We collect a month of temperature data in one tag that can be quickly be read out and be displayed on our handheld readers."

That's a big deal to Mollie Stone's supermarkets' Ken Tonna, someone picky about freshness.

"A paper trail is the current method," he demonstrates, "where we're just following merchandise with invoices. And, actually, we go through every box hand-by-hand."

The new kind of wireless data visibility would enable growers and grocers to determine which food to put out first, and no longer throw out the whole bunch because of one bad apple. And, it's not just about food. Biopharmaceuticals spoil during shipment, too. Current drug packaging uses dense and reflective material that's unfriendly to wireless signals. So, the only way to read what has happened to this package is at the end of its journey with a USB cable. With a wireless solution, everything can be monitored in transit. What makes it possible is a new generation of RFID chips like those made by Intelleflex.

According to Mehring, "It's a super-sensitive radio. It can decode a signal that's a hundred times weaker than a traditional RFID tag --through all of the produce and other impediments, up to 100 yards away."

The new tags are green also because they are reusable, with batteries that last for years, and can be turned on and off remotely.


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