Infratab's Freshtime tags monitor temperature and shelf life. A pilot project with Pandol grapes was honored by Computerworld.
Infratab's Freshtime tags monitor temperature and shelf life. A pilot project with Pandol grapes was honored by Computerworld.

(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 6) Computerworld has honored Oxnard, Calif.-based Infratab for a pilot project with grower-shipper Pandol that tracks the shelf life of grapes from field level.

Infratab was one of 13 U.S. and international organizations named laureates in emerging technology June 20 by the Computerworld Honors Program. The program recognizes recipients for contributions to public welfare.

The project, Freshtime, uses radio frequency identification tags with temperature sensors. The 4-by-8-inch tags are placed in contact with clamshells on pallets in the field.

Temperature monitoring of produce is common. But the addition of variables like spoilage rate that can compute shelf life from the scannable tags is new, said Terry Myers, chief executive officer at Infratab.

“They begin to manage inventory based on how much shelf life is left,” Myers said. “You can then ship product before it has to be discounted. If it was 105 degrees in Delano, you’ve lost some shelf life so you ship it today or tomorrow instead of a date based on when it was picked. They can manage product before it needs to be tossed.”

The idea of food waste reduction caught Computerworld’s eye.

Infratab’s partner on the Pandol project, begun late in the 2010 season, is UPM RFID, a sensor tag maker.

Each tag costs about $12; they are reusable. An RFID reader, about $500, is required. According to Myers, there are financial benefits that can offset that cost in a season or less.

“Before Pandol, we never did a return-on-investment for produce,” she said. “We never analyzed the process that could be fine-tuned and the money that could be made on freshness. That’s why we got the award.”

Infratab’s prior focus included flowers and transportation.

Andrew Pandol, safety manager at Pandol, said the company is considering full adoption of the technology.

“We’re really encouraged by what we’ve seen and what we think it might be able to do for us,” Pandol said. “The tags will allow us to maintain our inventory at proper levels. We’re figuring out how to integrate this into our system and ship higher shelf life items to our customers. Grapes have a long shelf life to start with and we’re able to take advantage of that even better with the information this product gives us.”

One application, Pandol said, is making the most of market shortfalls.

“It will give us a more informed, less risky decision about what we can and can’t hold for a higher market,” he said.

Myers envisions other uses for the technology.

The tags — which can be associated with PTI case barcodes — offer a chance to recoup traceability costs, she said. Beyond grower-shippers, Myers’ hope is that its use spreads through the supply chain.

“If a retailer has an RFID reader, they know at each case how much shelf life has been used,” Myers said. “They know whether it’s premium or should be discounted, and can reduce their own toss rates.”

Consumers after similar information could use smartphone apps.

“At that point you actually do reduce food costs,” she said. “In 10 years people will be buying food at prices based on how fresh it is.”

Shorter term, Infratab will look at blueberries and strawberries.

“The shelf life of grapes is much longer than strawberries,” Myers said. “We thought if we had a value proposition for grapes, we absolutely have one for strawberries.”