What is in this article?:
- Technology: The Farm, the Fork and the Factory: Tools of the Digital Supply Chain
- From Farm to Factory
"RFID is a foundational technology that provides connectivity to the physical world," explains Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra Technologies. "It acts as the convergence point between the physical and the digital worlds, enabling you to take advantage of the information hidden in your assets."
In late 2012, a strain of salmonella found its way into the supply of the country's largest organic peanut processing plant outside Portales, N.M.
The result was a quick and massive recall of just about every jar of organic peanut butter sold at health food and bulk retailers around the world.
Somewhere in that frenzy of notifications and emergency reverse logistics, a blip appeared on the software screens of supply chain managers at Earthbound Farm Organics.
Earthbound produces organic fruits and vegetables for many of the same retailers that carried the contaminated peanut butters, but the company doesn't deal in the stuff itself. Nor had the recall been expanded to include any peripheral peanut products. And that made the blip all the more interesting.
Driving Earthbound's supply chain platform is a high-tech RFID tracking system by IBM (IW 500/10) associate Frequentz that tracks the movement of, for example, every head of the 140 million pounds of lettuce it produces every year from its global network of farms all the way to the customers that bring them home.
It is a system that CEO Charlie Sweat calls "farm-to-fork traceability." And it was that system that created the blip.
Once word of the recall hit the network, it told the company a few important facts: first, it confirmed that the contaminated peanuts had been used in some pre-packaged salad mixes and that pallets of those mixes had already been shipped. Then, most importantly, it told the company exactly when those pallets shipped and exactly where.
This allowed Earthbound to enact a targeted recall of the specific products at risk of contamination long before any official word had been issued and before anyone got sick.
"In this industry, we need to be sure that whenever you buy food, you have the confidence of knowing how it was produced and that it is safe," Sweat explains.
To do that, he says, he requires real-time traceability and identification of products across the supply chain, bringing visibility into every step of the process from how it is produced, where it is produced, how it's brought together with other products, to who buys it — every detail, as he says, from farm to fork.