Links in the Chain

By Baselinemag Print this article Print

Manufacturers and distributors still can't trace how an edible product gets from farm to store. Now, they must safeguard each step of the way.

Links in the Food Supply Chain

First, businesses are working to secure pieces of the food supply chain.

Food, electronics, and healthcare conglomerate DuPont is developing diagnostic tools to protect the food supply and track bacteria and other biological agents. Among these technologies are DuPont Qualicon, a microbe testing system, and Teijin, a Mylar polyester film for tamper-resistant and tamper-evident packaging.

Farm-equipment manufacturer John Deere recently introduced CropTracer, a crop identity-tracing system that it developed together with crop-monitoring firm VantagePoint Network and technology developer CropVerifeye LLC. The system blends John Deere's field data collection technologies, VantagePoint's data warehousing and CropVerifeye's certification and field-auditing services.

Even the lowly bar code is getting a facelift, in the name of improving end-to-end food traceability.

"Today, your bar code will tell you that you have a package of ground meat and how much it costs," says Greg Rowe, director of food and beverage for the Uniform Code Council (UCC), the product-identification standards body. "An expanded bar code would let you see a brand name; encode a batch or serial number; and trace that number back a level in the supply chain to match up to a bar code on a physical case of meat." Such a bar code uses a reduced space symbology (RSS) technology, a next-generation scannable bar code system that provides more data for "space-constrained" applications. Technology is transforming food labels, as well. An Israeli company, Power Paper Ltd., has developed a paper-thin power source, which can be used in smart labels.

The power source makes the label "active," meaning that it can transfer more information over a longer range. KSW Microelectronics has licensed Power Paper's technology for use in KSW's smart labels that include a temperature sensor that can be used to monitor anything, from blood bags to frozen foods.

Keeping food secure at all stages of distribution is a long-term project, involving tens of thousands of purveyors. Some companies and industry associations already are dabbling with pilot projects using the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), a standard for exchanging data between them, over the Internet.

XML provides suppliers, partners and customers a standardized and securable way to share information over the Internet, so that centralized hubs will be possible for transacting and monitoring business. Several XML standards organizations, such as Rosettanet and OASIS, are helping vertical industries create collections of XML definitions and data that can be used when setting up a business-to-business supply chain operation on the Internet. A couple of specialized XML organizations are focusing on developing XML standards specific to meat and poultry (MeatXML) and grains (AgXML).

The key is to create data that can be exchanged electronically, thus improving the ability of companies to track products up and down the supply chain. Not to do so is to court disaster, says AMR's Martin.

"If things go wrong, people can go to jail—or even die," Martin says.

This article was originally published on 2002-03-15
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.