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Organic RFID to cut waste on produce

By Daniel Rodgers |

Research at the University of Manchester is developing organic RFID tags to monitor food in the retail supply chain and better manage fresh produce.

Organic RFID could help minimise wastage and illuminate issues in supply chain managementThe project will deliver a printable, organic proof-of-concept when it concludes at the end of 2011, says Bruce Grieve, director of the Syngenta Sensors University Innovation Centre at Manchester.

Syngenta then hopes to collaborate with an industrial partner to produce the proven device on a commercial scale.

An organic RFID chip would allow distributors of food to monitor variables such as temperature and therefore identify the risk of spoilage to packaged goods, as well as pinpointing where spoilage has occurred in the supply chain.

Says Grieve: 'We talked to growers about what their key gripes were and they said that when produce entered the supply chain they had very little control over quality. Products might be trashed and they would have to cover the cost of sending it to landfill.

'If you can track all boxes you can say where the problem has arisen and we're developing active RFID to do this, with temperature sensors or measures of ethylene release [a chemical released as fruit ripens].'

Less waste

As well as understanding spoilage to remedy unknown errors in the supply chain, Grieve notes that some produce may be rescued using better monitoring systems.

He adds: 'In supply chain management, you could tell which batches are high or low stress and, with that information, you could accelerate the handling of high-stress batches to make sure they reach the shelves as soon as possible.'

Grieve believes that there will be a number of suitable partners for commercial R&D to follow on from this project by the time the demonstrator technology is complete in 2011. And, despite the lack of announced interest in organic RFID, he suggests that there is much work being done - albeit confidentially - that will make some major firms eligible for commercial partnership.

Grieve remarks: 'The fact that Wal-Mart is forcing some suppliers to adopt RFID suggests they are into it in a big way and this is how it will be possible. We're working on the premise that these things will come along.'


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