RFID Useful for Tracking Spinach?

One of the biggest news items this week was that spinach tainted with E. coli was endangering the health (and in some cases, lives) of Americans. The problem was first identified by authorities almost two weeks ago, and since then has affected people in at least 23 states.

Health authorities tracked the E. coli outbreak to bags of spinach distributed by Natural Selections Foods, LLC, and sold under a variety of brands including Dole. Last Friday (Sept. 15) Dole recalled bags of spinach thought to possibly be involved (with Best-If-Used-By dates from August 1-October 1, 2006).

Despite the detective work, as of this morning CBS reports that authorities have only been able to narrow the source of the tainted spinach down to one of nine California farms.

Okay, so it’s been almost a fortnight since the problem was first detected, and all we know is that the spinach came from one of nine possible farms in California ?! In this day and age of high-tech, it seems to me that the source should have been traced a lot quicker than that.

Perhaps spinach distributors should consider using RFID tags to prevent such a drawn-out PR nightmare in the future.

For those of you not familiar, RFID tags are small devices that can be attached to people or objects for identification purposes. The tags contain stored data that can be read by scanners using radio waves and transmitted to computers for analysis.

According to RFID Journal, this technology has been around since the 1970s, but only recently has it become cheap enough to be practical for commercial applications. Wikipedia notes that RFID tags are now used in to track a variety of items including library books and airline baggage. So why not spinach?

If the tainted bags had been affixed with RFID tags containing data about their origin, it should have been easy to figure out where the E. coli came from. Some commentators on this subject have expressed concerns that RFID technology could take on a Big Brother function in our society, by enabling companies and the government to track people based on the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the types of activities they engage in.

There may be a real danger of loss of privacy from RFID, but the technology also could have beneficial applications—like tracking food so outbreaks of bacteria can quickly be confined).

What do you think?


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