Farming Goes High Tech

Tisha Uyehara
Tisha Uyehara

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The Hawaii Department of Agriculture launches a program that could revolutionize food safety.

Last year's e-coli spinach outbreak killed three people, and made hundreds sick. The contamination did not reach Hawaii. But the state and folks in the produce industry are taking steps to increase food safety, with the help of radio frequency.

Workers at this warehouse process 300,000 pounds of produce a day. Soon, the Hawaii produce industry could be in for a major revolution, thanks to radio frequency identification technology.

"With RFID, you can read it with radio waves primarily bouncing off a chip and an antenna," said Dr. John Ryan, an administrator with Hawaii's department of agriculture. "And what it does is, it lets you know what the product is through that data."

It's an improvement over current technology.

Employees tag boxes with lot numbers, tracking who shipped them and when they arrived. But new technology could make that process much more precise.

Each shipment using RFID has a sticker embedded with a silicone chip. This helps farmers control their produce.

"If we can track that the best way we can with this RFID, it'll just enhance our business," said Derwin Okinaka, Sugarland Farm's sale & marketing manager.

Besides efficiency, it can also help reduce food contamination, and even locate the source, if there is contamination.

"We can go to that particular item and take it out so people don't get sick from it," said Dr. Ryan.

So farmers and produce distributors attend an informational briefing on RFID on Thursday.

"We want to make that commitment that we're going minimize the risks as much as possible," said Tisha Uyehara, Armstrong Produce's marketing & food safety director.

Looking for high-tech ways to keep our food supply clean.

This is a three-year project. Organizers hope to get it off the ground within the next six months.