Food Safety and the Environment: Can We Have It All?

There was an interesting story on NPR today.  “How Making Food Safe Can Harm Wildlife and Water” discusses how issues relating to reducing the risks of E. coli and other food borne illnesses in the field prior to harvest can, in fact, be deleterious to the environment. This may seem counter-intuitive.  Shouldn’t things that help to improve food safety also be good for the environment?  Not necessarily.

Environmentalists are trying to protect against bare land that leads to erosion while also providing habitat for animals and insects that can be good for crops.  The downside is that these animals and insects can also transport E. coli into fields and potentially lead to food safety issues such as occurred with bagged spinach from the Salinas Valley in 2006.

According to the story: Environmental advocates say a single-minded focus on food safety has forced growers of salad greens to strip vegetation from around their fields, harming wildlife and polluting streams and rivers.

Even When Food is Properly Grown, Harvested and Packaged, Food Safety Issues Can Still Exist

It’s an interesting story and well worth the few minutes it takes to listen to or read it on the NPR website.  But, unfortunately, the issue with food safety doesn’t stop in the fields.  As Dr. John Ryan points out in an interview with The RFID Network (find it on our video page from January 26), even the most stringent food safety efforts in the field can be completely wasted if produce isn’t properly handled and monitored in the cold chain.  He points to cases of bagged spinach and broccoli shipped into Hawaii that sat on a hot airport tarmac for hours.  Such storage conditions can provide a rich environment for the growth of unhealthy pathogens on produce.

Solving the food safety issue is a daunting task that spans everything from the field, through distribution, to the retailer.  And it’s not just a domestic issue.  With increasing amounts of food being imported, it’s also an international issue.  You can read Dr. Ryan’s thoughts on this in this article: International Food Safety: The Importance of Temperature Monitoring
Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing

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Notes from the Georgia Tech Forum: The Three Cs of the Cold Chain

Complexity, Communication, Collaboration

This week the Georgia Tech Research Institute is hosting “The 2012 Academic Cold Chain Forum” in Atlanta.  This conference pairs business executives from the food and pharmaceutical industries with researchers from Georgia Tech, University of South Florida and other universities to define and discuss issues in the cold chain.

As part of my job, I deal with cold chain on a daily basis but, when it comes down to it, we all do. Every time we buy fresh produce, meats, seafood or poultry, or every time we use a temperature sensitive pharmaceutical, we’re dealing with the cold chain. Unless you work in the industry (i.e. you work for a grower or pharmaceutical manufacturer), however, I think it is pretty much impossible to fully realize just how complex the cold chain is.

Intelleflex CEO Peter Mehring on a Panel at the Georgia Tech Academic Cold Chain Panel

Intelleflex CEO Peter Mehring on a Panel at the Georgia Tech Academic Cold Chain Panel

Between the multiple hand offs that occur, the potential variations in packaging, the different temperature sensitivities of the products and the myriad of partners, it is one enormous, complicated beast. Dealing with the beast seems to come down to what I’ll term “The Three Cs”.  First, it’s important to understand the complexity of the chain. For example, if you’re in produce, it’s important to know that certain fruits (such as berries) need to be refrigerated at 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit to maximize freshness.  But, that temperature will ruin tomatoes or egg plants. Same thing for pharmaceuticals…some need to be stored 2-7 degrees Celsius, others would be ruined at that temperature.  Accounting for these variances involves proper packaging, storing and transport.  Multiply all of the variables and it makes it tricky to ensure you’re delivering quality product consistently.

The next step in solving the problem is communication. During one panel session, we were reminded by Anthony Totta of FreshXperts, that the cold chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That means we’re all in this together and we need to find ways to share information about the condition of the product throughout the supply chain.

This leads to the third C: Collaboration. Beyond just having the information and communicating it, cold chain partners have to agree to work together. Producers and shippers. Shippers and retailers or providers. Everyone has to pull on the rope in the same direction for the cold chain to work properly.

All of this comes down to having actionable data about the condition of the product and having that data on-demand throughout the cold chain. Every partner needs to know what they’re delivering to the next partner in the chain.

This also means realizing that there’s an implied ownership or commitment to quality even after ownership of the product has passed from one entity to the next.  Think of a branded vegetable such as cauliflower, for example.  A grower spends time producing the best quality cauliflower available and puts their name on it. They need to know that the cauliflower is being handled, shipped and managed properly, else a poor quality product with their name on it ends up on the grocer’s shelf leading to an unhappy customer who will ultimately take their business elsewhere.

Needless to say this is even more acutely true for pharmaceuticals where a bad experience can have much worse results than simply tossing some cauliflower into the garbage.

There’s a lot of focus on RFID at this conference as a way of providing actionable data. RFID solutions are moving from capturing data and making it available only historically or forensically, after the fact, to providing actionable data proactively – and making it easier to share that data more easily shared across supply chain partners. This new approach to managing (versus monitoring) the supply chain can have a huge impact on simplifying the complexity, improving collaboration and increasing communication.
Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing

What’s Really Exciting About Today?

RFID Journal Live!, the industry’s largest tradeshow kicks off today in Orlando. What’s exciting is that it has the potential to be something far more than just another RFID show because of new capabilities that are being made available to the market. RFID is no longer tied to speeds and feeds but now is demonstrating real business benefits. As someone whose background is in enterprise applications, I see the transition to business-enabling solutions as significant.

At last year’s show, Intelleflex featured our new generation of XC3 Technology readers and tags. This award winning technology brought significant business benefits to a number of industries, including the cold chain for food and pharmaceuticals. Case studies, pilot programs and partner adoption over the past 12 months have helped to validate the value proposition for our solutions.

Introducing ZEST and the CMR-6100

But, what’s really exciting is that, this year, we’re taking it a step further with the introduction of our CMR-6100 Cellular Reader and ZEST™ Data Services. The CMR-6100 is the first fully integrated cellular-enabled, GPS-equipped multi-protocol RFID reader with support for the ISO Class 3 battery assisted passive and EPCglobal C1G2 passive standards. Intelleflex ZEST Data Services, a cloud-based repository for aggregating, warehousing and sharing information across the supply chain, facilitates on-demand access to actionable data for improved supply chain operations.

The vision behind these new offerings is to deliver true business value by providing customers with timely access to information that improves the delivered freshness for food, ensure efficacy and quality of pharmaceuticals, and optimizes asset utilization. With increasing pressure on the bottom line, new industry regulations and tighter competition, companies are looking for solutions that make it easier to do business. By delivering new solutions to capture Actionable Data – information that people can use on-demand for real-time decision making – and simplifying how it is shared across the supply chain using a cloud-based model, we believe that Intelleflex, along with our partners, can help improve how companies do business. If you’re at RFID Journal Live!, please come by booth 205 and take a look.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing