We often talk about the supply chain when it comes to groceries, but equally as important is the subset known as the cold chain. The cold chain is pretty much what it sounds like: the system in place to ensure food is kept at its proper temperature so it doesn’t spoil as it travels from farm to processing facility to your grocery store.
The problem though, is that food doesn’t always stay cold in the cold chain, whether through refrigeration breaking down or handlers being inattentive. Distributors and buyers want to make sure the food they purchase has stayed at the proper temperature, but it’s hard for them to know it’s been kept cold prior to taking ownership.
That type of automatic auditing is where Varcode comes in. Varcode creates barcode stickers that have a built-in temperature sensors that continuously keep track of the ambient temperature those goods are stored in. The stickers automatically record if there are variations in temperatures outside a certain range (e.g., too warm). When the barcode is scanned that data is transmitted to the cloud where it is kept as a permanent blockchain-enabled record in a database.
Varcodes can be scanned with a regular handheld scanner or a mobile phone, and each link (distributor, transporation, etc.) in the cold chain scans the Varcode when they receive a box and when they hand it off. Each tag is uniquely serialized, with a unique record created for each tag in Varcode’s cloud using the IBM Food Trust Blockchain. This then provides an audit trail that shows what temperature food was kept at at each step along the way. If food gets too warm at any point, Varcode’s system will show exactly when it happened.
It’s costs $2 per tag for the Varcode system, which includes access to the software and cloud. There are a number of preset tags for food like seafood and berries, or customers can create their own customized tags around more specific temperature criteria.
Monitoring food as it travels through the supply chain is becoming more of a focus for startups looking to fight food waste. Other players include Telesense, which acquired Webstech earlier this year. Both of those companies make sensors that monitor the temperature and humidity of grains in storage.
Based in Chicago, Varcode is privately funded and is currently running a number of pilots with different food companies like premium chocolate and ice cream makers. As the company looks to expand, we’ll see if their solution is cool enough to catch on and help prevent food waste.