Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the provenance of their food. The past decade has seen a trend in health awareness which has spiked the demand for complete traceability across supply chains. This concern is not unfounded. In 2016, the prevalence of seafood mislabeling came to light. It was revealed in an Oceana study that 20% of seafood sold in stores is mislabeled. Cheaper fish are often passed off as more expensive types which means that consumers are paying much more than they should in stores and at restaurants. The financial aspect isn’t the most concerning dimension of mislabeling and invisible supply chains – mislabeling may result in serious health complications.
Why Traceability is Important
- 60% of mislabeled fish types posed a health risk to consumers – as species-specific varieties often have higher levels of mercury, toxins, and environmental chemicals.
- 75% of grocery store honey studied by the Journal of Food Sciences contained no pollen, and therefore cannot be legally called “honey”.
- 16% of Olive Oil was found to be fraudulent and “watered down” with cheaper oils such as sunflower oil or vegetable oil.
- Coffee is often mislabelled with false provenance, many brands identifying their bean as grown in Colombia or Peru.
- Milk in regions of Asia and North America has been found to contain a mixture of detergent, oil, urea, sugar, salt, skim milk power, and caustic soda.
- Alcohol’s negative side effects are often attributed to over-consumption but may be compounded by the presence of anti-freeze and other harmful chemicals.
How Can Companies Prove that their Products Comply with Regulations?
Complete visibility of food quality and history along supply chains can be ensured with environmental sensors and tracking technology. Food and Beverage manufacturers rely on the collection of temperature, humidity, light, accelerometer., and pressure data to prove that their product has been compliant. A combination of technologies deployed in factories and processing plants, on ships, in fields, on farms, and in transit can gather all the necessary data to provide a full picture of compliance. Having hardware for each variable can get expensive and involved.
Thankfully, solutions exist which simplify the hardware needed for widescale environmental sensing and asset tracking. Such systems which incorporate both are called Real-Time Location Systems and are facilitated via RFID and WSNs. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a well-known and widely adopted identification technology used within traceability systems to track and monitor the location of assets. RFID has provided a decision support system for perishable products. In conjunction with wireless sensor networks (WSNs) which monitor temperature and humidity, RFID systems can alert personnel to sudden failures in freezers and fridges, saving products or informing decisions about product disposal.
RFID and WSNs replace earlier technologies such as temperature probes and barometric sensors. New facilities looking to implement Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) are turning to an all-in-one technology which is easy to deploy and can interact with pre-existing hardware – hardware, in fact, which most of us have in our pockets. Bluetooth is the industry leader in wireless technology and is constantly pushing the range and lowering the energy consumption of its iterations. Instead of relying on RFID coupled with WSNs, industries are turning to Bluetooth Beacons to facilitate Real-Time Location Systems.
Cost Effective Asset Tracking and Monitoring
Beacons are inexpensive compared to active and passive RFID because cell phones and smart devices can act as gateways to collect data, saving thousands to hundreds of thousands depending on the scale of deployment. Beacons eliminate the need for WSNs and sensor technology because of their versatility and the myriad of sensors that come built-in to their hardware. Beacons can measure environment data when mounted on flat surfaces, or may track the location of assets and critical equipment. Their batteries can last years depending on the strength and frequency of their signal (Tx factor). Beacons can be affixed to pallets and product to ensure temperature regulations are being met. Notably, Beacons can also sense when personnel approach and can monitor interactions to ensure that all steps of the manufacturing process are completed.
When facilities are able to track and trace products and environmental conditions, companies avoid quality control issues and consumers are healthier and happier. Visibility will ensure your brand builds life-long customers. Adding a Real-Time Location System to your facility can automate important quality assurance checks and prevent product spoilage.