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Microchip Authentication: How Parmesan Producers combat counterfeits with electronics


Cheesy Chips - how microchip transponders can confirm PDO for Parmesan Producers

Parmesan Producers use Microchips to preserve their PDO

It's not often that I get to write about my two favourite subjects in the same article - food and technology!


The world of gourmet food is no stranger to counterfeits. Italy's iconic parmigiano reggiano, a staple for pasta dishes and salads, has unfortunately become one of the most duplicated cheeses globally.


In a bid to safeguard its authenticity, manufacturers spearheaded by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (PRC) have sought an electronic solution and are now embedding microchips into their parmesan rinds.


This innovative approach aims to ensure that consumers get the genuine product they pay for.


The Legacy of Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese with roots tracing back to the middle ages, was awarded the European Union's prestigious protected designation of origin (PDO) status in 1996. This certification mandates that the cheese be produced in specific regions of northern Italy, including Parma and Reggio Emilia.


Each cheese wheel, weighing an average of 40kg, undergoes rigorous maturation for a minimum of 12 months in mountainous regions. Furthermore, experts evaluate these wheels two years post-production to ascertain their quality.


The Challenge of Counterfeits

With the PDO status, products like parmigiano reggiano often command higher market prices due to their guaranteed quality and origin. This premium pricing, however, has also attracted counterfeiters.


The PRC estimates that counterfeit cheese sales globally amount to approximately $2bn annually, a figure alarmingly close to the sales of the authentic product.


How the Parmesan microchip works: a diagram showing the micro-transponder in the casein label on a parmesan cheese wheel

Micro-transponders: The Modern Solution

To combat this, producers have begun experimenting with cutting-edge authentication methods. They've introduced micro-transponders, tiny devices roughly the size of a salt grain, embedded into the cheese labels.


These microchips, produced by the US-based p-Chip Corporation, act as durable, scannable food tags with a reference built on blockchain.


Retailers scan these chips to trace the product back to its origin. These chips, embedded within a QR code label, serve as "tiny digital anchors for physical items," ensuring the cheese's authenticity.


The Digital Evolution of Cheese Authentication

Previously, each cheese wheel, made from 550 litres of milk, featured a unique case-in plate with a sequential alphanumeric code. This code, forming a distinct dot pattern around the wheel, also displayed the production month and year.


However, with the rise in counterfeit products, there was a pressing need for a more advanced authentication method.


The introduction of microchips is a significant milestone in the cheese's rich history, which spans over a thousand years. As international demand for authentic parmesan grows, producers believe that leveraging modern technology, like these microchip microtransponders is crucial.


The digitisation of the authentication process aims to uphold the cheese's value on a global scale and differentiate it from similar-sounding, non-compliant products.

Conclusion

The fight against counterfeit food products is intensifying. With the integration of micro-transponders, Parmigiano Reggiano producers are setting a precedent for other gourmet products. In an era where authenticity is paramount, such innovations ensure that traditions are preserved and consumers receive genuine products.


Might we see further integration of electronics to test the freshness of dairy products or bread for example to reduce unnecessary food waste? Watch this space.

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