Food safety is on everybody's mind. Remember the spinach-salmonella outbreak of 2007? How about the salmonella-tainted tomatoes of 2008? And who could forget the current peanut products recall, one of the largest in U.S. history? Apparently, not the folks in Hawaii, where a three-year pilot program recently kicked off to promote food safety through the use of radio frequency identification technology. The Hawaii Produce Traceability initiative, the first of its kind in the United States, uses RFID technology to track, in real time, food as it moves through the supply chain -- down to the farm or even field level. If a food-safety issue arises, product recalls can be enacted within an hour, and with traceability down to the field level growers can pinpoint the recall to a specific area and mitigate losses. Growers were offered the opportunity to participate by either slap-and-ship tagging or usage of a hand-held RFID system. Boxed produce is read at the distribution center upon entry and exit. Tags are read again at the retailers' point of entry and at end of life. The pilot is expected to increase food safety response and mitigate losses associated with crop diseases, food recalls and other safety issues. The program's other benefits include using the gathered data to optimize harvest productivity, strengthen food processing controls, reduce produce dwell time on shipping and receiving docks, accelerate transportation times and improve inventory turns. Funding for the pilot program was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii, the Federal State Marketing Improvement Program and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.
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