RFID vs. Barcodes: Advantages and Disadvantages for Food Traceability

Barcodes have long been the standard for tracking products throughout the food and beverage supply chain. But technological advancements have introduced RFID as another option across a variety of industries. What’s the difference?

What is RFID?

RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is the use of radio frequency waves to wirelessly transfer data without contact. Tagging items with RFID tags allows users to automatically and uniquely identify and track inventory and assets.

An RFID tag is essentially comprised of two parts: an antenna for transmitting and receiving signals and an RFID chip, which stores the tag’s ID and other information. RFID tags are affixed to items in order to track them using an RFID reader, which can be fixed or mobile.

Advantages of RFID tracking

RFID technology comes with its share of benefits, including:

  • Greater data storage — Linear barcodes can only store a limited amount of data. However, RFID tags can store more data such as tracking the origin of a product, its location, and its journey through the supply chain.  Plus, that data can be read even in remote locations.
  • More flexible scanning — RFID does not require line of sight for scanning, meaning the tag can be read from any orientation. Also, RFID scanners can read multiple tags at the same time. Compare this to barcodes, where the label has to be seen in a fixed position for the label to be scanned.
  • Increased tracking accuracy — With RFID readers placed at each portal or doorway, you know exactly when inventory enters or leaves a location. With barcodes, employees can potentially move an item without scanning, which erodes data accuracy.
  • Improved traceability data — RFID technology can be used to track a product during production. It allows you to immediately locate a product on the production line and track its status, which can be used to optimize your production process. In addition, RFID can be used to track products, containers, and pallets from production to supplier and final destination in real time. RFID platforms automate the product identification process during shipping, receiving, packing and storing while barcodes rely on human interaction to scan each item. 

Disadvantages of RFID tracking

Despite its pros, there are some cons that are worth considering when it comes to RFID tags:

  • Expense — Given its complexity and added features, RFID technology typically costs more than barcode labels. Therefore, RFID is usually used on higher-value goods. An ROI analysis can help determine if RFID is an appropriate fit for a facility.
  • Required infrastructure — Since RFIDs provide a lot more information, a system would need to be designed to accommodate all of this data. For example, a facility’s server size may need to be increased.
  • Security risks — Some RFID readers are portable and the range of some tags are so great that almost anyone could gather information they would not otherwise be able to access. That means steps would need to be taken to prevent scammers from collecting sensitive information without the facility’s knowledge.
  • Potential interference — Since they operate on radio frequency, RFID tags and their systems can be susceptible to interference problems.
  • Setup time — Configuring an RFID system can be labor intensive and time consuming. Companies may need to test various hardware and tag systems to determine the best fit, which needs to be accounted for when it comes to scheduling and timeline.

Ultimately, whether RFID technology is the best traceability solution for you depends on a number of variables, including your process, product and goals. An ROI analysis can determine whether RFID tags or barcodes makes the most sense for your operation.

Interested in conducting a traceability analysis at your facility? Have more questions about RFID and barcode scanning? Leave a comment below or email me at foodforthought@stellar.net


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