New Technologies On The Horizon To Simplify Temperature Control
Several other technologies are available or in development which offer at least some of the same advantages as RFID-based temperature monitoring, minus some of the complexity.
The PakSense TXi Label, introduced by PakSense Inc., Boise, ID, in 2006, is a flat label the approximate size and shape of a sugar packet, which includes LEDs, a tiny battery and a memory chip.
PakSense programs the chips to each user's specifications in terms of allowable temperature ranges, warning triggers, temperature sampling intervals, etc.
Users simply bend the corner to activate each label as they affix it to the product. If product temperature violates programmed tolerances, an LED signal lights up that is immediately visible at the end of the journey.
Also at the terminus of the journey-or at as many stops as desired along the way-each label is designed to be read with a proprietary hand-held contact reader, which uploads the time and temperature data to a computer in a file format that can be used to create an Exel spreadsheet.
Because the labels are waterproof, flat and encased in food-grade packaging, they can be attached directly to product, even placed right on chilled fresh product like fish or submerged in water, notes Amy Childress, marketing programs manager for PakSense.
"So the labels can be used to track the actual temperature of the product, not just ambient temperature in a truck," she points out.
Moreover, their small, flat size and shape enables them to be easily mailed. So vendors can track the labels on product all the way through distribution, then have customers mail them back to a central location for reading as part of an ongoing audit process.
Since their introduction less than two years ago, the smart labels have quickly gained popularity. They are the preferred monitoring device specified by Albertson's supermarkets for its recently mandated program requiring temperature monitoring devices on all inbound produce, fresh meat and seafood shipments.
They were also recently adopted by JBS Swift & Co. for use in monitoring fresh beef and pork product both internally, in process through its plants and through distribution to customers.
One mushroom producer is even using the labels as part of a research project to track the temperature of product from the field all the way to the consumer's kitchen, placing labels inside individual packages with instructions requesting customers to mail the labels back.
Onboard Solutions Alert Dispatchers To Trouble
Another approach to in-transit temperature monitoring is through vehicle-based systems.
While onboard monitoring systems have until now focused predominantly on the driver and the tractor, companies connected with perishables in particular are beginning to explore the potential of sensors mounted in the trailer as well, points out Don Douglas, vice president of sales for Safefreight Technology, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Safefreight's Smartfleet trailer temperature monitoring and GPS fleet management solution can track and also alert dispatchers in real-time to a variety of conditions that affect product quality, including temperatures in the trailer, door openings and reefer operation.
"You can even use the system to alert a destination when the truck is a set number of minutes away from arriving, so the receivers can be ready to unload the truck as soon as it pulls up at the dock and move the product from the temperature-controlled environment of the vehicle to the proper environment in the DC without any lapses or lag time," Douglas comments.
In the coming months, SafeFreight will even add the capability for the dispatch office to interface by radio directly with the reefer controls, allowing dispatch to adjust the settings remotely, if necessary, as temperatures vary, to insure product remains safe.
As with other monitoring systems, from electronic temperature recorders to RFID and PakSense's electronic labels, users can determine at what intervals to capture temperature data and enjoy tremendous latitude in how aggregated data can be stored and used, both immediately and over time, to identify, analyze, correct, and prevent cold chain incursions. -C.C.