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Ag department tagged for radio awards


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The state of Hawaii Department of Agriculture is a finalist for the third annual RFID Journal Awards.

It was nominated for a pilot project in conjunction with the Hawaii Farm Bureau, that can identify and pull contaminated products before they reach consumers.

“;We're the first state to do it at the state level, which is significant, I think,”; said John Ryan, quality assurance division administrator.

RFID stands for radio frequency identification, and the RFID Journal is a publication covering the industry involved with such technology.

Participants at the farm level affix RFID tags to boxes of a variety of produce. The tags are 4-inch by 2-inch labels embedded with an antenna and a chip, or integrated circuit, containing data about the produce including what it is, where it is from, the date, the box number, and more.

The data is scanned by RFID readers “;and it gets transmitted to us over the Internet,”; he said. Boxes loaded on palettes and received by Armstrong Produce Inc. are then scanned by portal readers at the warehouse, similar to column-type shoplifting detection sensors in a retail store.

The RFID tags provide real-time tracking of each step the labeled produce takes.

“;When it comes out of the cooler and back out of Armstrong it gets read again — and it gets read again at the store,”; he said.

Four Foodland Super Market Ltd. locations are participating but Ryan would love to roll it out statewide, were funding available. “;I need a couple million. Let me know if you find anybody,”; he chuckled.

Should a problem be detected, “;if you go into our database, it will tell you every place that box has been and when it was there. You can also find its brothers and sisters. The idea is to get control over contaminated goods fast ... literally in seconds,”; Ryan said.

The normal way is to track produce and other products “;on paper, manually ... which takes months.”;

In the meantime, consumers could be getting sick or dying.

Additionally, farmers whose produce is not the problem would be suffering losses due to the contamination scare, as happened with spinach and tomatoes and, more recently, products supplied with peanut paste from the Peanut Corp. of America.

The ag department was nominated in the “;Best RFID Implementation”; category, as were clothing companies American Apparel and Charles Vogele Group. Other companies were named as finalists in other categories, but the ag department is the first Hawaii entity included in the 3-year-old competition.

The project was just honored with a Governor's Innovation Award for January and has won other awards as well. RFID will name this year's winners at a gala in Florida late next month.

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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).