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Tainted Hot Dogs this 4th of July? RFID protects your health.

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When you bite into a hot dog this 4th of July weekend are you sure that dog is safe? Did the package of dogs from the supplier remain frozen until you purchased it? Was it left out on the dock just long enough for E. coli to form? Are you endangering your family instead of providing holiday fun? With RFID technology consumers can rest easy knowing grocers have sophisticated tools to protect consumers against bad food.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, is technology embedded in small, thin tags applied to shipping containers, pallets and even individual product packages. They contain a unique serial number and transmit data to special antennae while in shipment. Companies use this data to locate shipments between the factory and distribution center, or butcher and grocer.

RFID tags have the ability to relay time and location information such as “location: Fort Worth; time: 12:34pm 07/04/2009.” Not only is this information critical to ensuring supplies arrive at your grocer in time for the 4th of July rush, but newer forms of RFID can now tell your grocer if the product has exceeded allowable time and temperature settings. For instance, if a package of frozen hot dogs was left on the loading dock for 30 minutes allowing the hot dogs to reach a temperature of 42 degrees (an unacceptable level) the grocer would know this from scanning the RFID tag. This information gives the grocer the ability to protect consumers against potentially dangerous food packages while saving money in the process by rejecting spoiled supplies from the distributor.

According to research from MA-based Sensitech Inc., food shipments rise above allowable temperatures in 30% of shipments from supplier to distribution center on their way to grocer’s shelves. E. coli and salmonella thrive in temperatures between 41 F and 140 F meaning some 30% of food products delivered to your grocer’s distribution center could contain harmful bacteria.

To combat this problem, grocer’s use RFID scanners at distribution centers. With a quick and simple scan of the RFID tag an “accept” or “reject” order can be applied to a shipment based on the shipment’s temperature history. If temperatures exceeded allowable ranges during shipment, the shipment is rejected. This saves the grocer money and provides confidence to the consumer in their food purchases.

RFID tags are becoming more common as the price for tags and related equipment drops. Soon, suppliers and grocers will move from the current pallet level of visibility with RFID to the package level. This will tell a grocer if an individual package of hot dogs is bad, versus rejecting the entire pallet of hot dogs. RFID tags are also becoming more sophisticated by expanding the amount of temperature and location data they can store along with the functionality to transmit this data wirelessly while in transit. If a package of dogs exceeds allowable temperatures in Lubbock, a grocer in Fort Worth can reject the shipment even before it arrives using this RFID data.

So when you reach for that hot dog this 4th of July, rest assured that your grocer and their supply partners are taking proactive actions to ensure your food quality is the highest possible. Technology, along with a human commitment to safety, can ensure the only worries this holiday are “who burned the buns.”

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