(March 15) MONTEREY, Calif. — Dole Fresh Vegetables is launching what it calls an unprecedented system in the produce industry, using Global Positioning System and radio frequency identification technology to trace its products from the field to retail shelves.

Dole first tested the $2.5 million program in 2006 to establish quality control measures for romaine, which represents only 3% of its raw products. The company in February initiated steps to take the program nationwide, with its entire vegetable product line.

“A lot of people think we did this because of the spinach recall, but actually it started in March 2006,” said Eric Schwartz, president. “What we’ve done is a combination of GPS with RFID, and we’ll roll it out when we get back to Salinas, where we’ll start with the leafy greens.”

Schwartz said the pilot program was initiated because fields have gotten so big that Dole wanted to make sure the entire journey from field to cooler took no more than four hours.

“We didn’t have a good way to track that,” he said.

Schwartz said the program identifies the specific point in a field; up to 5,000 bins of product go through Dole’s system each day.

An RFID tag is attached to each bin. When bins are filled in the field, workers scan an RFID tag with a GPS device to document the exact location in the field. The information is relayed to a computer in the packing facility. If the truck containing the bin does not arrive at the facility in a predetermined time, the system alerts employees.

Previously, information on bagged salads could provide Dole Fresh Vegetables the means to track product back to a the packinghouse and field, Schwartz said, but not to a specific location in the field.

Dole to use GPS, RFID for product tracking
A worker scans a radio frequency identification tag in a Yuma, Ariz., field to document the exact harvest location for a new traceback system used by Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Salinas, Calif. President Eric Schwartz says the company currently uses the system for romaine but will expand it this summer to cover all vegetables.