How Cold Was It? Know The Whole Story

RFID is bringing new levels of decision-making to cold chain management.


RFID allows you to make dock-level accept/reject decisions based on anticipated remaining shelf life. Add an RFID tag to that temperature monitor, place mobile RFID-enabled temperature monitors in the truck and feed the data in real time to the company's central database repository in a secure data center.

If a temperature spike has compromised the salad's shelf life, RFID can alert the retailer's distribution center quality manager to reject the load even before the truck has parked. When appropriate, the shipment can even be diverted en route to a closer retailer-so the next day, for example, it's crisp on someone's plate in Denver, instead of languishing on a truck that isn't due in Boston for three days.

More importantly, an RFID-enabled cold chain system can direct managers to trouble spots. Instead of knowing, "This shipment of salad exceeded 40 degrees while in transit," a manager can learn, "This shipment of salad exceeded 40 degrees at the distribution center because it was left on the loading dock for 96 minutes on Tuesday afternoon."

As the prices of RFID tags continue to fall, shippers will be able to place sensors at the truck, pallet and item level--creating "nested visibility" that increases the amount and depth of data-its "granularity"-and makes it possible to ensure freshness "from farm to fork." But essential to this visibility and granularity is a system that aggregates and analyzes the cold chain data.

RFID temperature tracking can also improve operations such as loading a truck. One test conducted by Sensitech and Motorola created three-dimensional maps of how hot spots developed in a refrigerated trailer, identifying zones that stayed colder longer. Another proved that "centerline loading," which keeps pallets away from the trailer walls, led to more stable temperatures than "wall loading," in which heat from the sun passed to products without space for refrigerated air to circulate.

Growing Acceptance

For 80 years, temperature monitoring devices have been used as an insurance policy to settle in-transit temperature abuse disputes. With electronic temperature tracking and RFID reporting of the data, all parties can work together to develop and implement best practices. Instead of fearing that cold chain compliance problems might reflect badly on them, operators can use the data to gain a strategic, big-picture view of their perishable supply chains.

Using cold chain data to make work easier in the food industry is really only a means to an end. The ultimate business effect of this technology is on corporations and consumers-because when customers receive fresh food, they're satisfied and more likely to develop loyalty to brands and retail store chains.

Joe White is vice president of RFID market development for Motorola's Enterprise Mobility business.

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