Weird tech: Ensuring nut freshness with RFID

Pistachio giant Paramount taps technology to control the flow of its nuts

Somewhere along the line, every IT manager has had a nutcase to deal with. None likely are as daunting as the one faced every year by Paramount Farms, the world's largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios.

[ See the full list of Weird tech uses. ]

Pistachios in particular are a tough nut to crack because their ultrashort six-week fall harvest season requires superefficient processing of as much as 20 million pounds of nuts per day. This means receiving loads of nuts from 400 participating growers; weighing the nuts and sampling for quality; and then cleaning, hulling, drying, and packaging them.

Furthermore, the potential for damage to or discoloration of the nuts from the moment they’re mechanically shaken off the tree until they’re fully processed is quite high, placing a huge premium on speed and efficiency. Heat in particular can spoil the nuts en route to the plant or waiting to be processed.

Paramount's solution: Deploy an RFID system as part of an overall software suite to manage the flow of nuts from tree through processing. With software from Microsoft and RFID components from Intermec, Paramount set up a system that pinpoints crucial information as each truckload arrives -- which grower sent the nuts, what the harvest method was, the load’s current temperature, and total weight. This data is then relayed to workers carrying handheld units who can prioritize the processing of each load accordingly.

“If a load’s at a very high temperature, say, over 100 degrees, which could speed up spoilage, they reroute it to the front of the line to get processed,” explains Chris Kelly, Intermec director of RFID business development. The system is geared to reduce "turn time," Paramount’s primary operational metric.

“It's basically fleet management RFID,” Kelly says. “They were looking to get more efficiency out of the facilities they had, because their business is like the retail Christmas season -- it’s very peaky.”

And, thanks to high tech in an arid agrarian setting, the pistachio harvest season is a little less nutty.

[ Weird tech index | Weird tech No. 4: Tapping game tech to save lives ]