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Packaging Corner: Pallets take their own temperature

To combat waste in the food supply chain, packaging companies are employing technology to monitor goods.
By Sara Pearson Specter, Editor at Large
April 01, 2012

As much as 30% of all produce that’s grown in the United States is thrown away before it even reaches consumers, says Rex Lowe, president of iGPS (Intelligent Global Pooling Systems). “That happens because it is out of date by the time it arrives at the store, or it has gone through an unacceptable temperature field that shortened its shelf life,” he explains.

To combat that waste—both in products and lost revenue—iGPS has created a line of plastic pallets embedded with active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. This system provides a platform for pallet-level temperature monitoring, says Lowe. The tagged pallets can be rented by growers, producers, co-ops, shippers and brand owners.

“Previously, the only way to monitor shipped produce’s temperature was to measure the temperature of an entire trailer,” Lowe explains. “But inside the trailer, temperatures of individual unit loads can vary from bottom to top and front to back. By each pallet independently measuring the temperature around itself, it could prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars in shrink.”

While the technology is still in its infancy, its potential cost savings to the perishable supply chain—and for pharmaceutical handling—is huge.

Although tracking individual unit loads with passive RFID tags has become widespread, the ability to monitor temperature came with improved battery life and increasingly affordable hardware, says Lowe. “The active tag can be set to record temperatures at any frequency increment; longer increments mean longer battery life,” he says.

The tag is read by an interrogator that pulls the data from the tag and pushes it to software for analysis. If a certain load has spent time outside of a pre-set desired temperature range, an alert directs that product to be sold first or discarded. “This practice allows you to do a recall with a rifle rather than a shotgun,” he adds.

“The requirements for following these products through the supply chain are only going to expand and increase,” adds Lowe. “This technology offers a better means to control and monitor the products from the time of production to the time of consumption.”

Read more Packaging Corner.

About the Author

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Sara Pearson Specter
Editor at Large

Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Logistics Management as an Editor at Large since 2001. Based in Cincinnati, Specter has worked in the fields of journalism, graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for 15 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky., with a bachelor’s degree in French and history.


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