Food Safety and RFID

On January 4, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act – considered by many to be the most sweeping update of America’s food safety system since 1938. The law grants the FDA significant new powers to impose rules to help prevent food contamination as well as giving the FDA significantly more authority to force recalls of suspected tainted foods.  Another key element of the law authorizes the creation of a food tracking system so that the source of outbreaks can be quickly identified.

The ability to monitor the temperature and quality of food throughout the supply chain, coupled with the capability of tracing each pallet back to the producer, can significantly help improve food quality and cold chain operations.

Already this month, we’ve experienced a salmonella outbreak associated with alfalfa sprouts. Incidents such as this and the spinach recalls in 2010, 2009 and 2006 demonstrate the need to act quickly in the event of an E. coli or salmonella contamination.  When time is of the essence, delays of days or weeks in tracking spinach back to specific farms and fields represents a huge health risk.

We think RFID technology can help solve this problem.  Battery Assisted Passive RFID tags can store harvest and shipping information about the produce (along with temperature data that relates to quality and safety), directly on the tag.  The tag can be placed with the produce and track its temperature and condition from the field to the distribution center to the retail grocer, all at the individual pallet level.   This information, in the event of a recall, ensures that the produce can quickly be traced back to the producer to help identify cause of the recall, improving public health and also protecting other growers.

Do you think the Food Safety Modernization Act will help improve public health? Can pallet-level tracking and tracing technology help improve the perishable food supply chain?

3 thoughts on “Food Safety and RFID

  1. Increasing traceability of food throughout the supply chain will almost certainly increase efficiency and lower cost for producers and retailers. (Hopefully this will also allow them to lower costs.)

    The ability to respond rapidly to food recalls and trace contaminated ingredients to the source(s) will also decrease the time that poisonous products are in the marketplace, lower the cost of recalls, and manage litigation risks.

  2. I’m sure some people will feel that RFID traceability is just a cost. Apologizing for my shameless bit of self-promotion, but I just posted an entry re: a lawsuit against Safeway grocery stores for not timely notifying its customers about food recalls. Accordingly, as technology advances and allows faster recalls, customer expectations will likely follow.

    See my posting at

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