News Release – NR07-17 – August 15, 2007

Posted on Aug 15, 2007 in 2007 News Releases, News Releases

HONOLULU —  The Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which will assist in funding a food safety program that involves the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking.  

The pilot program initiated by HDOA’s Quality Assurance Division involves industry partners, including Sugarland Farms, Hamakua Springs, Kula Country Farms, Armstrong Produce (food wholesaler/distributor), Foodland and computer and produce packaging companies.  More farms will be added to the program as more funding is secured.  The project aims to develop a simple and functional food traceablity system that may be expanded later for use by the state’s 5,000 farms.

“We want to make sure that Hawai`i farmers have the tools available to meet the food safety precautions that will likely be required in the future,” said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chairperson of the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture. “The ability to track and trace where our food comes from and where it has been distributed will become even more important as our food supply continues to be globalized.”

“Aside from increasing our food security, this project will help to establish Hawaii as a leader in food traceablity programs using radio frequency tagging,” said John Ryan, administrator of the Quality Assurance Division.  “The technology is there, but we need to adapt it to agribusinesses, wholesalers and retailers.”

The cost of the pilot project is expected to be about $1.6 million over a three-year period.   The $50,000 grant from USDA is part of the Federal State Marketing Improvement Program, which assists states in exploring new and innovative approaches to marketing U.S. Food and agricultural products.   Grants were previously received from the Economic Development Alliance of Hawai`i and HDOA is waiting to hear about another possible grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

The project is expected to begin in September.  It will involve tagging a box or pallet of produce with a passive transmitter that may be traced as it moves through the food supply chain.  The product identity, time and the RFID read location will be automatically entered into a computer.  The farmer may also use the RFID system to log when the crop was planted, harvested and what pesticides were used, as well as other information.

When the product identification number is entered into the online database, any RFID reader (now available in cell phones) can be used to validate the source of the product.  If the inquiring person has access to the Internet, the number can be traced in real time, through the supply chain back to the farm of origin.

The technology may also be able to track temperature and humidity information to determine if food products are transported and stored under appropriate conditions.  Research continues in this area and RFID technology exists that can alert the supply chain to conditions where a food product is not being handled under the right temperature and conditions.