Freshening up the cold chain

by Array


Keeping perishable food products fresh and avoiding waste—or shrink—presents a challenge across the supply chain.

According to a recent study by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), more than half the world’s food production is lost, wasted or discarded through inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. The study reports that up to one-quarter of fresh fruits and vegetables in the US are wasted between field and table. Another study, this one by the University of Florida Research Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, says one-third of shipped produce is wasted annually, amounting to a loss of US$35 billion each year.

Santa Clara, California-based Intelleflex aims to cut the risks with a new suite of readers and tags. The company’s new HMR-9090 hand-held reader and FMR-6000 fixed reader work with its tags for wireless monitoring of products. The readers also offer extended reading capability allowing them to read through objects and obstructions, says Intelleflex CEO Peter Mehring.

The readers work with both traditional tags and Intelleflex’s TMT-8500 tags, which can store information about a product’s temperature. Mehring says this allows producers, shippers, distributors and retailers to monitor the freshness and quality of products on pallets and totes as they move through the supply chain. “What we allow is our tags to be placed within the produce so you don’t have to unpack it to read it,” he notes. “With the hand-held reader you can just point it at the pallets—even from five or 10m away—and still reliably read not only the ID but the temperature history to say what the freshness of that pallet of produce is.”

Intelleflex’s extended-capability readers have a longer range than traditional readers—up to 150ft for the hand-held version and 300ft for the fixed reader. This allows pallets to be read at a distance, or in environments that contain obstacles, says Mehring. “Often in a warehouse there’s a lot of obstructions and those pallets often contain dense material, produce, water, liquids,” he said. “The ability to read through those impairments equates to long range. Reading at 300ft is sometimes equivalent to reading through a pallet of oranges.”

Rather than storing certain data on a database shared with other companies, the tags also allow other information such as waypoint data to be written onto them. “That waypoint data translates into accurate traceability at the tag level, not at the database level,” adds Mehring.

Retailers can use the tags and readers to see whether the goods they receive have experienced any temperature swings, check how fresh those goods are and whether they have travelled with the proper ID. The tags also provide more on-board tag memory, says Mehring.

Ruthven, Ontario-based Clifford Produce was one of the first companies to begin using Intelleflex’s suite of cold chain products during its initial deployment. The company produces field and greenhouse vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

“This new technology gives us the capability to have real-time inventory visibility within our facility, on-demand, combining that information with overall traceability and quality management,” says Mike Glass, sales manager with Clifford Produce Sales at the time the company began using Intelleflex’s technology. “Our plans are to continue working with Intelleflex to empower us to manage our inventory on a first-expiring, first-out—versus first-in, first-out—basis.”