RFID innovation has blue cheese in its sights

By Charlotte Eyre

Radio frequency identification (RFID) has now been adapted to track Spanish blue cheese as it travels along the food chain.

A team of scientists from the University of Dortmund department of logistics, said yesterday that they have developed a method of tracking and tracing the production of “Queso Cabrales”, a blue cheese from northern Spain.As stricter laws force companies to invest in ways of tracking the food they sell, RFID is becoming a necessity not only for large, international companies, but also a for smaller, family-owned businesses.Cheese-makers using the new system will be able to put an RFID transponder on the product, which is then replaced by a serial number during packaging.“The goal of the project is to develop a reliable labelling for each individual cheese which is applied at the first stage of production – filling the raw milk into the mould –  survives the ripening process and finally follows the cheese on the wrapping into food shops,” said Thomas Jansen, who led the team in its experiments.

Customers purchasing the cheese can then use the serial number to track the stages of its journey to their table. The number will allow them to identify which farmer supplied the milk, when the cheese was produced and for how long the cheese was in the ripening cellar.

During the development of the new system, the scientists had to deal with problems such as using RFID on fresh cheese, and creating a transponder that survives the ripening process, Jansen said.

RFID was created in response to the EU guideline 178/2002, he added. This legislation stipulates that all companies in the food and feeding stuff industry have to completely track and document the flow of their ingredients, including the food as well as materials and wrappings coming into contact with the food.

“And these European guidelines don’t make exceptions for the small farmers in Asturias”, he said.

RFID uses a wireless system that helps enterprises track products, parts, expensive items and temperature-and time-sensitive goods. Transponders, or RFID tags, are attached to objects. The tag will identify itself when it detects a signal from a reader that emits a radio frequency transmission.

Each RFID tag carries information on it such as a serial number, model number, colour, place of assembly or other types of data. When these tags pass through a field generated by a compatible reader, they transmit this information back to the reader, thereby identifying the object.

The use of RDID along the food chain is set to rise to $5.8bn (€4.3bn) in 2017, and it will become most important new food technology, according to a new report by IDTechEx.

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