Tainted Tomatoes? The Industry is Ripe for RFID

Midland Park, NJ (June 16, 2008): Had RFID technology been applied to a pallet or case of salmonella-infected tomatoes, we would be light years closer to determining the source of the outbreak. Although the FDA, has announced that the source of Salmonella 'SaintPaul' bacterial illnesses has been whittled down to either central Florida or Mexico, the Food and Drug Administration still has not identified the source of the contamination with 100% certainty. With a total number of 23 states affected by the tainted tomatoes, the toll of illnesses related to the outbreak is now 228 at the FDA's last count.

"Agricultural supply chains are notoriously complex. Produce travels from the grower, to the processor, to the distributor, to the retailer or restaurant or even on to more complex supermarket distribution before it finally travels your table. Citing a 'recent food-borne illness,' McDonald's, Wal-Mart and other industry giants had even gone so far as to pull tomatoes from their offerings, affecting the very core of the consumer marketplace. It is only now that tomatoes are returning to menus and shelves," observes George Manolis, Senior Vice President of Operations, IES, Ltd., a supply chain software vendor.

Manolis added, "With all of the complexities inherent in the agricultural supply chain, the industry is ripe for the application of RFID technology. Most people if asked, believe that a tomato on their salad can be tracked to the very plant it came from. This is simply not the case. You may find a label on a tomato in the supermarket, but this label is generally only used for pricing purposes, not for tracking through the supply chain."

"Unfortunately, it takes an outbreak such as this to implement mandatory regulations to monitor an industry. I am certainly not an agricultural expert, however as with other regulated industries, I feel strongly that the solution does not lie with more inspectors. That approach has been tried elsewhere and has failed. What has been successful, however, is the application of tracking technology, such as RFID."

"Of course the initial response is often, 'What is the cost' or 'How can we put RFID on a tomato?'. Right now, RFID's popularity in agriculture is limited by cost. However, many Australian producers do it, tracking every tray of tomatoes with RFID (2). However it appears that the US is only in the pilot stages of RFID application in agriculture."

"Also, there is a persistent false belief that a seventeen-cent RFID tag needs to be applied to each tomato, bringing up the cost of each individual tomato by that amount. Why not apply a tag to a pallet or carton? Also, there are similar, smaller chips used by high-volume retailers that cost as low as five cents."

"With RFID, you could immediately know not just the origin of the produce, but you could also track its progress at every step along the supply chain. Had an RFID tag been applied to a pallet or case of salmonella-infected tomatoes, we would be light years closer to solving the mystery of the tainted tomatoes."

About IES, Ltd.

With offices in the US and Hong Kong, IES is one of the largest software transportation companies in North America. For 18 years, the IES suite of import and export solutions has served freight forwarders, NVOCCs, Customs house brokers and other transportation intermediaries who seek advanced systems to manage growth, differentiate their service and improve profitability. Operated in over 70 countries with thousands of users and millions of daily transactions, IES is the proven solution for the most demanding, mission-critical logistics automation needs.

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