RFID Journal, October 24, 2007 – Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a leading cause of food-borne illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year. In 2006, a flood on the Hawaiian island of Kauai caused runoff water from a cow pasture to contaminate lettuce growing in a field below. That lettuce, subsequently served in Hawaiian restaurants, sickened a number of people.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture believes that the ability to identify the source of tainted produce quickly may help reduce the number of people affected by such incidents, and assure consumers that foods are safe to eat. That is why the department is launching an RFID-tracking pilot next month to help farmers, distributors and retailers better track produce throughout the supply chain.

During the pilot, three Hawaiian farms will attach EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to cases of tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce. The tags will be read when the produce leaves the farms and is transported to a food distributor, where fixed readers will capture the tag numbers to track how long the products wait before being unloaded and moved into cold storage and shipped to two supermarkets. Employees at the supermarkets will then use interrogators to document the movement of the produce from the loading dock to coolers and the sales floor.

During the pilot, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture plans to run a mock recall. In the simulation, John Ryan, administrator for the department’s quality-assurance division, expects to be able to locate and trace the problem produce to its source, as well as launch a recall of other boxes from that batch—within an hour’s time.

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