From raisins to rations: Tracking food will never be the same

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CHICAGO – From small California vineyards to battleground trenches in Iraq, and in the mass-market realm of Wal-Mart’s top suppliers, radio frequency identification technology is taking root.
Companies slow to respond are advised to jump aboard or get left behind.
“This is only getting started, but (companies) that don’t adopt now are going to wake up and discover the train has left the station,” said Ron McCormick, vice president for Wal-Mart.
McCormick made his comments at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting in mid July.
Army. Whereas Wal-Mart is working with the technology on its army of consumers, the U.S. Department of Defense is implementing it on an army of soldiers.
In both instances, the technology is taking the tracking of products through the supply chain to a level never seen before.
In general terms, RFID is bar code technology on steroids. It tracks products like a bar code system but is unencumbered by the need for hand-held devices.
Tiny tags in or on product packaging can transmit data that’s picked up by receivers that don’t even need to be within the line of sight.
In addition to saving labor costs and improving inventory awareness, RFID offers the chance to perform “smart recalls” and holds promise of preventing counterfeiting by allowing companies to follow an established trail, or “pedigree.”
Distribution. “Based on what is known about the relationships in the distribution network, it’s easy to track any inconsistencies and making it more difficult for the counterfeiter,” said Kenneth Traub, chief technology officer for ConnecTerra, a company specializing in RFID.
Wal-Mart is currently working with its top 100 suppliers and 30 other companies to implement RFID, and the superstore plans to add 600 stores, 200 suppliers and 12 distribution centers to deploy products tagged by the case and the pallet by January 2006.
Other use. For the Department of Defense, RFID tags has been beneficial for the military’s massive shipping needs, and in tracking the temperature of military rations during storage and distribution, referred to as “vendor-to-foxhole.”
“We never know if rations are going to the desert or to a frigid climate like Bosnia, and we have needs in logging the temperatures and logging the shelf life of a product,” said Stephen Moody, the RFID program coordinator at the U.S. Army Natick Center.

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