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Washington Fruit Improves Traceability

Washington Fruit Improves Traceability

Shoppers and Trends

August 28, 2011

Traceability has become increasingly important to all segments of the food industry, from farmer to manufacturer to consumer. Many in the food business have been using traceability technology for years, relying on things like RFID technology. But new traceability laws, passed earlier this year, have prompted technology companies to get into the game by developing additional ways to track and manage data.

Washington Fruit, one of Washington state’s largest shippers of apples, recently deployed mobile computers, scanners and printers from Intermec, a total solution, automated information and data capture technology company. In addition to helping Washington Fruit meet compliance laws, Intermec also aided in improving inventory management and operational efficiency, all without adding additional staff.

Prior to implementation, Washington Fruit relied on manual inventory and lacked a pallet tagging and inventory management system. This resulted in daily "house counts" to ensure inventory control, and was a waste of employee resources. Today, Washington Fruit uses mobile technology to track pallets with barcode scanning. 

"The first step in capturing data for the new laws begins with obtaining the field data from the orchard or farm. Mobile scanning and printing allows the workers to gather the data needed right in the field as the product is being picked and loaded into the transport bins," says Bruce Stubbs, Director, Industry Marketing at Intermec Technologies.

When the fruit crate comes into the factory at Washington Fruit, it goes directly onto a conveyor belt. Then, the crate is submerged, and the apples float to the top and are cleaned, graded and sorted. Next, they are sent to a packing station and workers put the apples into boxes, which are then stamped with all the information needed about the contents, plus two barcodes. One barcode is for traceability compliance – the Global Tracking and Identification Number (GTIN) – and the other is an in-house serial number. Crates are then sorted into pallets and further labeled and scanned for inventory management.

Inventory is tracked at the box level with all the information about the fruit inside each box. If a recall were to occur, they would be able to tell where every box was shipped and which orchard the fruit came from. Also, scanners, terminals and keyboards were installed on forklifts, so that employees can stay on their trucks when scanning pallets.

Both RFID and bar coding technologies are applicable in this particular environment, Stubbs says, but bar coding is still more accurate and much more cost effective – especially since cost could be an issue for companies looking to upgrade to meet the new traceability requirements. However, while implementing the technology will incur costs, non-compliance fines and lawsuits could bankrupt a company, Stubbs says, so it is a good risk aversion investment. 

Stubbs says that Washington Fruit plans to expand the new technology, as needed, into additional processing areas. Ultimately, he says, the biggest benefit to compliance is brand protection.

The final mandates of the new traceability laws need to be met by the end of 2012. The laws are very similar to the ones previously in place but have expanded to include many more food types for traceability including seafood, poultry, meat and produce, all from field to fork.