suspected at kids’ summer program
Industry Must Promote RFID's Role in Food Safety
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
plans to issue guidelines within three months regarding how to create a
system to trace tainted food, and RFID needs to be part of the plan.
July 13, 2009—On July 7, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gathered with cabinet
secretaries, members of Congress and food regulators at the White House.
After numerous outbreaks of food-borne illness, the Obama administration
wanted to publicize its commitment to food safety. As part of a plan to
protect the public, the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that in three months, it
would release advice regarding how farmers, wholesalers and retailers can
build systems to trace contaminated foods quickly in order to determine where
an outbreak began.
Do people working on different task groups within the FDA talk to each other?
The FDA has been studying how to use technology, including radio frequency identification,
to track pharmaceuticals through the supply chain, and it has a deadline of
March 2010 to effect a pedigree system. But I haven't heard much from the
organization about using a similar approach to enabling food recalls in the
event of an E. coli or salmonella outbreak.
fact, I haven't heard anyone in the administration talk about using RFID to improve food
safety. In President Barack Obama's weekly radio address of Mar. 14, for
instance, he did not mention either RFID or serialization upon announcing the
appointments of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as FDA commissioner and Dr. Joshua
Sharfstein as principal deputy commissioner, and the creation of the President's
Food Safety Working Group.
But the RFID industry has not done a good job of promoting the benefits of
RFID technology in enhancing food safety and facilitating recalls (see The RFID Industry Misses
the Boat on Food Safety). The reality is that no matter how much
governments expand inspections, tighten regulations and promote safer
business practices in an attempt to stop outbreaks of food-borne illnesses,
they will continue to occur. And with the food chain becoming increasingly global,
having a standards-based system to capture data cost-effectively and share
that information in near-real time is going to be essential.
Bar codes will continue to be an important part of any traceability solution,
but RFID is essential because data can be captured without a great deal of
human labor. Tracking individual lots of food items at every point of the
supply chain would require an army of people equipped with bar-code scanners.
RFID, on the other hand, can capture serialized data without any human
intervention. In the wet, muddy conditions of a farm, RFID is simply more
effective than bar codes. And low-cost sensors are emerging to detect when
food is exposed to higher-than-acceptable temperatures.
Moreover, GS1 and EPCglobal have been supporting a great
deal of research into standards for creating secure pedigree documents for
drugs that can apply to food. The organizations have also been considering
the technology, data and messaging standards needed to track back where tags
have been read and share this
data quickly via the Internet. I'm sure someone in the U.S. government is
aware of all of this, but I don't know if anyone on the President's Food
Safety Working Group is up to speed.
If you feel, as I do, that RFID can help
protect the public and ensure food safety, then submit
your comments to the working group online, or write letters to the
Secretary of Health and Human Services
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
In your letters, stress these points.
RFID technology has matured to the point where it can be used to collect the
serialized data required to track individual lots or batches of food. It does
not require human intervention, and thus will not drive up labor costs. The
technology has been proven at the state level (see Hawaii Plans Trace-Back Program
for Fresh Food) and in the use of tracking livestock; in fact,
several governments, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have
mandated the use of RFID to track cattle. And the Auto ID Labs have been developing
"discovery services" that would enable companies to trace where and
when a product's RFID tag was read in
the supply chain (see Designing
The FDA could do a world of good by launching a national RFID pilot in
conjunction with industry to examine how a national or even global system
might be managed, and how companies might benefit from utilizing the data
captured for track and trace to
improve the way they do business. How about using some of the stimulus money
to stimulate an international movement to improve food-chain safety and
traceability? There's an opportunity here for government and industry to use
RFID to do something good for consumers, as well as for business. Reducing
waste and improving food-chain efficiencies is also good for the environment,
and could help fight hunger (see Mending Broken Links).
But nothing is going to happen unless we light a fire under the folks in
Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID
Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on
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