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Hawaii Tests RFID For Tracking Tomatoes

Hawaii is one of my favorite places to visit ... the beaches, the snorkeling, and fresh seafood that doesn't travel thousands of miles on a supply chain before landing on your plate. Turns out it's got some smart scientists, too. While in a previous blog we shared opinions about whether RFID could be used to track tainted tomatoes back to the farm, Hawaii already is working on such a program.
Hawaii is one of my favorite places to visit ... the beaches, the snorkeling, and fresh seafood that doesn't travel thousands of miles on a supply chain before landing on your plate. Turns out it's got some smart scientists, too. While in a previous blog we shared opinions about whether RFID could be used to track tainted tomatoes back to the farm, Hawaii already is working on such a program.I got many provocative e-mails about my tomato blog, but the most intriguing came from Dr. John Ryan, administrator for the quality assurance division with Hawaii's Department of Agriculture.

"Aloha," Dr. Ryan's e-mail began (don't cha love Hawaiians?), "Read your article on RFID and tomatoes. Right you are. Hawaii is currently tracking tomatoes and other produce from the farm to distribution to retail outlets using RFID as part of a pilot project funded by the DoD and DOA. We hope to expand it in a year to include a lot more farms."

I asked Dr. Ryan for some more information and he sent me a few links. The Denver Post published a story it picked up from The Associated Press about it in April prior to the big tomato caper here on the mainland.

Essentially, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture in April started a three-year pilot to track and trace tomatoes and other produce using RFID tags attached to produce boxes. Writes the AP: "Four farms across Hawaii -- from a small farm on the Big Island to a 2,000-acre multicrop operation on Oahu -- will soon tag boxes and pallets of everything from lettuce to strawberries."

The AP quotes Ryan as saying he hopes the costs will eventually come down to a point where RFID would be adopted by many of the 5,000 farms in Hawaii. His hope is to develop a model other states will use.

Hawaii is partnering with Motorola, Lowry Computer Products, and GlobeRanger. The state also is working with the University of Hawaii to develop bio-sensors that could test for contaminants, such as E. coli and salmonella.

The IT publication ComputerWorld, meanwhile, has an honors program that recognized the effort in a case study.

Good luck, Hawaii. Mahalo for the heads up. And glad you know where your tomatoes are coming from, as we still don't. We've entered Week 8 of the tainted tomato mystery.