The research comes as new regulations oblige processors to track ingredients from their immediate suppliers and the products to their retail or distribution points.
The requirements have pushed organisations to search for technological solutions allowing them to track and record items. Recent scares involving food, notably the case where German authorities uncovered 110 tons of rotten meat at several warehouses destined for European Union consumers, have also prompted organizations to find ways to prevent such abuses in the future.
The FreshScan, a €3 million project funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), is being coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Micro-integration (IZM) in Berlin, which focuses on assembly and packaging technologies.
The three-year project, which began in mid-2006 aims to develop a two-component system consisting of a semi-active RFID tag with temperature sensors to monitor the condition of meat, and record temperatures on a continual basis. The second part is an RFID reader with an optical detector. The device uses a laser to analyse the light spectrum in which chemical changes of meat can be detected. The condition recorded in the RFID tag.
Processors will attached the tag inside meat's packaging, and the sensor on the RFID tag will take temperature, moisture and light incidence reading during intervals, recording this information on the tag. At any points during the supply chain the condition of the meat and the conditions the meat has been subjected to will be available to processors.
Other partners of IZM include the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut für Hoechstfrequenztechnik (FBH), which is developing the optical detector. The Federal Research Center for Nutrition and Food (BfEL) is defining those chemicals and positions in the radio spectrum that should be monitored by the system. The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB) is defining the freshness parameters of meat and how the condition should be read by the sensors. The Technical University of Berlin (TU) will be designing the software needed to run the device. A further two professors are studying the chemical makeup of meat samples as they age.
The project is still at the conceptual stage and no commercial partners are currently involved. When the project is complete, developers hope to have a working demonstration model that will need commercial backing to bring to market.
The development could also be useful for ensuring the credibility of the EU's geographical indications certification system, which protects producers of traditional foods.