Tiny tags developed in Elyria tracing food and drug origins, ensuring consumer safety

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 1:19 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -A local lab is creating technology as small as a grain of salt, and attaching it to things we eat, medicine, even car parts, to ensure they’re safe and authentic.

Every year there’s roughly four and a half million wheels of Parmesan Reggiano cheese made in Italy. It’s a process and product highly regulated and so valuable they’re used as collateral in large loans. And now, technology at a lab in Elyria is helping protect the integrity and safety of these and other foods all over the world, through something called a P-Chip, barely detectable to the naked eye.

“A p-Chip is an integrated circuit,” said Bill Eibon, P-Chip’s Chief Technology Officer. He brought their lab to the campus of Lorain County Community College to make these digital taggings.

“For brand authentication, anti-counterfeiting-making, to ensure that medicine and food is safe to eat-that it is whatever they say it is, farm to fork-pool to plate, whatever you want to say,” he said.

The chips are affixed to a product, allowing for it to be traced back to its origin to confirm authenticity.

“We have tagged things as small as a bumblebee bat to as large as an elephant,” Eibon said.

The chips sit passively on an item until a reader shines a red light on it to identify the specific chip number, and other information which cannot be altered.

“So when we actually put a digital tag on it and we say this product, whether it’s a piece of salmon that you get at your restaurant, that says Copper River, that it actually really is Copper River. This is the digital tag that goes all the way back to the fish,” he said.

George Kantzios of Agora Foods in the Gordon Square Neighborhood, directly imports and distributes Mediterranean foods. Authenticity is vital to his business.

“It’s extremely important. That is really the basis of our business. There have been counterfeits in all parts of the business,” Kantzios said.

When he can’t have boots on the ground in Europe to ensure he’s getting what he paid for, this, he says is a great tool.

“I think it’s extremely appealing. I think it will help everyone in the supply chain,” said Kantzios.

In the case of cheeses, the P-Chips are added to the casein label attached for aging and storage. Eibon says affordable verification like this is important to companies whose brand focuses on sustainability, child labor free or free trade products.

Privacy is protected because the P-Chips aren’t trackable remotely, and must be read in person by a controlled device. Customers battle counterfeiters by putting it in a hidden location on anything from purses to pharmaceuticals.

“So the company knows, and the authorities know where to look for it, and if it isn’t there, it’s fraud,” said Eibon.

Eibon says the P-Chips have biotesting applications and can withstand extreme heat and cold.

“We put it on medical instruments, used for hip and knee replacements,” he said.

According to Eibon, this technology be used to better trace E-coli and listeria outbreaks.

“So what we’re doing is bringing new technology on that can go where old technologies can’t, so a larger part of our food and medicine supply can be traced,” said Eibon.

For consumers, having this kind of technology in circulation could mean having more confidence all kinds of products from cheese, to brake pads, to medical devices.

Globalizing this local technology is something the folks at LCCC are very proud of.

“It’s all about economic development and how we can help rise the tides,” said Jim Walborn, of Great Lakes Innovation Development Enterprise, an arm of LCCC.

“It’s a great tool to have at our disposal,” said Kantzios.

P-Chip has just announced a global partnership with Merck to develop digital track and trace brand authentication for pharmaceuticals, agriculture to chip certified seeds, and automotive to improve safety and traceability in critical safety components of car parts.