Research Could Help Reduce $35 Billion Annual Solid Waste In U.S. Perishable Goods

Suppliers of perishable goods -- from bananas to oncology drugs -- could benefit from a cost-effective, real-time method that could potentially reduce $35 billion (industry estimates) of annual U.S. solid waste in the supply chain.

Deloitte Consulting LLP and the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas (UA) announced on Nov. 16 they have developed a method to monitor and control conditions in the so-called "cold chain," the distribution chain of perishable goods. Their in-transit study, made possible by Chiquita Brands International, found broad inconsistencies in temperature within environmentally controlled trailers.

"Loss and damage of perishable goods during storage and transportation is a substantial global issue, with some industry sources estimating that losses of up to 33 percent on perishable freight are common," said Doug Standley, Deloitte Consulting. "In addition to negatively impacting manufacturers' and distributors' financial results, these losses contribute to waste, pollution, inefficient utilization of resources and illnesses caused by poor handling.

"When these adverse events -- such as unacceptable temperature changes -- occur, being able to quickly alert all parties and take remedial action can provide real value and go a long way toward resolving the issue," Standley added. "The good news is that emerging technologies are now ready to address this issue. We believe that, through our advanced cold chain research and experience, we have developed an economically feasible solution for manufacturers and distributors."

The research confirmed that the temperature within a shipping container can vary up to 35 percent from pallet to pallet, creating a potentially unacceptable environment for perishable goods.

"Our research, which utilized emerging wireless, sensor and Internet applications, was able to monitor and control temperatures and provide sufficient tracking to ensure item-level quality," said Bruce Westbrook, leader of the Consumer Business Consulting practice for Deloitte & Touche USA. "The research leveraged these technologies without specific vendor bias to develop a neutral intelligent cold chain perspective that can serve the global supply chain marketplace."

Deloitte Consulting and University of Arkansas collaborated with Chiquita Brands International for a real-world application of the research; Chiquita provided refrigerated trucks and perishable products from its live supply chain.

"This project showed that wireless and sensory technologies are a reliable, cost-effective way to investigate temperature and other conditions within a supposedly environmentally controlled trailer," said Bill Hardgrave, director of the UA RFID Research Center. "The preliminary data from the experiment are already beginning to provide insight into a 'real world' environment that until now had been prohibitively expensive to track. Overall, this project -- even at this early stage -- is rapidly bringing into focus the vision of a truly intelligent cold chain."

Deloitte Consulting LLP and the University of Arkansas are publishing opinion and analysis papers on cold chain applications for wireless sensor systems. Deloitte Consulting is a strategic sponsor of the University of Arkansas RFID Research Center.

The UA RFID Research Center: http://itri.uark.edu/rfid.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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