In a bid to extend the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) beyond the pallet level, EPCglobal has launched a internet information centre on the technology.
The site, DiscoverRFID.org, provides examples of some of the uses of RFID in the food sector as well as some case studies of the kind of testing performed by EPCglobal's Electronic Product Code (EPC).
RFID technology is helping to transform logistics by providing a means of tracking and tracing individual products throughout the supply chain. Regulations on traceability and mandates from such giant retailers as Wal-Mart and Metro are slowing forcing processors to make investments in the technology.
However, privacy concerns have held back the use of RFID beyond the pallet level to the checkout counter, a move that could help company marketers and logistics managers adjust to changing consumer demand.
"As more industries adopt RFID, it is critical that consumers understand the technology and its benefits as well as the tremendous potential for new applications that can help make their lives safer, more secure and easier in the future," said Chris Adcock, EPCglobal's president.
One such example is the use in North America of RFID tags on livestock so that an animal can be traced back to its herd of origin.
When cattle move through a stall as they head for a processing plant, a reader collects the unique identification number on the animal's ear tag.
The cow's tag is read at other key points, and information is saved in a database. Once a bad batch of meat is discovered, processors can use the information collected from the RFID tag to determine whether other cattle were exposed to a disease or contaminant.
Spain also uses a similar system to track eggs that are sold in liquid form. Producers put RFID tags on racks of eggs to mark out where they were laid.
The tags on the racks are read at different points as they are transported from the producer to the processing plant. RFID allows a single egg to be traced back to its point of origin in order to confirm that the poultry was cared for properly and kept in hygienic conditions, EPCglobal stated.
In another Spanish innovation, a producer of rare blue cheese ripened in caves has tested RFID to document the production of individual, handmade rounds of cheese, EPCglobal reported.
RFID tags containing EPC are placed on each cheese at the beginning of production. The tags are read throughout the production and ripening processes and only removed when the cheese is delivered to stores.
"The information documents the production stages for each individual slab of cheese, proving the quality of the production process as well as the origin of the cheese," EPCglobal stated. "Similar applications are used to improve the chocolate production process and to track how wine is made."
For example, one company has developed the prototype of an artificial wine cork with an embedded RFID chip. The chip can store information, such as when the wine was made, the type and the grape.
RFID can also be used to tracing the origin of other products, such as baby food or fair-trade coffee, EPCglobal suggests. One group of producers in Colombia is using RFID with EPC to prove to suppliers that their coffee comes from small, authorised growers.
In the EU, the European Commission is funding a project to test the use of RFID along the cold chain. The four-year project, with 23 partners in 13 countries, is in the process of developing methods to measure and record storage and shipping conditions precisely.
In the EU cold chain project companies are testing the use of RFID tags with temperature sensors attached to bins or crates of meat, EPCglobal stated.
The tags are read at key transfer points as the meat is transferred from a processing plant to a store's distribution centre and on to the retail level.
The sensor on the tag records temperatures at pre-set intervals. The information is transmitted to the computer system when the EPC identification number on the tags are read.
The computer system reviews the temperature data and alerts supply chain players if temperatures fall outside the required range.
EPCglobal is an international non-profit organisation set up to harmonise RFID standards worldwide so that the devices and tags used by traders are compatible worldwide.
EPCglobal standards set out the device and software interfaces for gathering supply chain data. It provides users with a single way to capture and share information with supply chain partners, even though they may be using different devices and software to read RFID tags.
A unified data system as developed by EPC would allow changes in information about product sizes, weight, name, price, classification, transport requirements and volumes to be immediately transmitted along the supply chain.
For example, it would allow shippers to immediately know if the amount of product stacked on a pallet had changed, or give a retailer time to adjust display space.
Consumer giants such as Unilever and P&G as well as Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hormel Foods, Kraft, Wegmans Food Markets and Sara Lee are among the food processors helping to develop the supply chain standard by using the EPCglobal'sGlobal Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).
The use of RFID technology along the food supply chain is set to rise dramatically to $5.8bn (€4.3bn) by 2017, according to a report released this year by IDTechEx.
The amount includes the money spent on RFID systems plus the tags in 2017. RFID use in the food sector will become more important than any other application of the technology the analyst firm forecasts.
RFID uses a wireless system that helps enterprises track products, parts, expensive items and temperature-and time-sensitive goods. Transponders, or RFID tags, are attached to objects. The tag will identify itself when it detects a signal from a reader that emits a radio frequency transmission.
Each RFID tag carries information on it such as a serial number, model number, colour, place of assembly or other types of data. When these tags pass through a field generated by a compatible reader, they transmit this information back to the reader, thereby identifying the object.
Regulations on traceability and mandates from such giant retailers as Wal-Mart and Metro are slowing forcing processors to make investments in the technology.