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Tracing Food in the Supply Chain via Rugged Tablet PC

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans annually suffer from some food-related disease.  In recent years, several well-publicized incidents involving widespread illness and even death from salmonella and e.Coli have fueled public and government concerns about food origins and handling as well as our ability to trace that information quickly if necessary.  
Rugged Tablet PC for AgricultureUp untill now, when problems have occurred, there have been significant delays while officials attempted to determine the cause and source, resulting in broad-scale product recalls that worry consumers and cost the food industry millions of dollars. Increasingly, produce is entering the U.S. from foreign countries where standards are often lower and traceability even more vague.  Food safety is now considered a Homeland Security issue because it’s a potential point of vulnerability, further emphasizing the need for accurate food supply chain traceability.

Consumers have responded to these concerns by overtly seeking locally-grown and organic produce.  And all segments of agriculture understand the need for improved tracking of the six billion cases of produce handled in this country each year.  Aside from safety issues, lack of information about correct temperatures and handling techniques results in massive losses due to spoilage – 25-50 percent according to industry experts.  

The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is an industry-driven effort to establish supply chain-wide electronic tracking by 2012, to better protect agriculture as well as consumers.  Retailers are hoping solutions can be developed that work for all agricultural products, not just produce, for consistency and efficiency. 

Unlike animals, fresh fruits and vegetables cannot accommodate tattoos or implanted microchips for tracking.  Instead, PTI designates a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) to identify each product.  This detailed information is loaded into a barcode that appears on a standardized template on every case of produce. 

When fully implemented, PTI is expected to enable digital scanning and storage of information throughout the supply chain.  If a problem occurs, officials will be able to quickly retrieve information necessary to identify the source.

Rugged Tablet PC for Food Supply ChainTechnology is the key to PTI’s success.  Innovations like the rugged tablet PC facilitate gathering and tracking needed information, because they’re tough enough to handle harsh agricultural working environments yet “smart” enough to be a strong working partner.

Rugged tablets also facilitate real-time information sharing, anytime and anywhere, among co-workers, with supply chain partners, with government officials, perhaps even one day with consumers themselves.  Effectively shared, data can generate industry-wide benefits, too, such as ensuring that a higher percentage – and higher quality – of produce reaches the market.

The best news for agricultural businesses is that detailed tracing information – and the very process of collecting it -- can also provide significant business benefits.  Effectively analyzed and managed, this data can provide substantial competitive advantages for agricultural businesses, through greatly increased operations efficiency and productivity.

Specific benefits could include better integrated logistics management, better inventory control, better quality control and lower costs.  In addition, strategic data analysis can help uncover operations deficiencies that can be corrected as well as additional opportunities for improvement.

Today’s challenging market and economic conditions put more pressure than ever on agricultural entities.  Tracing food throughout the supply chain is a good example.  Those industry segments and individual businesses that embrace the latest technologies soonest will be best equipped to comply with new tracking requirements and to thrive overall.

Solutions such as rugged tablets are practical, easy to use, save time and are equally useful for small producers or large agri-business operations, all of which must meet traceability obligations.  


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