“Italian producers of parmesan cheese have been fighting against imitations for years,” writes the Wall Street Journal, adding “Their latest trick to beat counterfeiters is edible microchips.

“Now, makers of Parmigiano-Reggiano, as the original parmesan cheese is officially called, are slapping the microchips on their 90-pound cheese wheels as part of an endless cat-and-mouse game between makers of authentic and fake products.”

New methods to guarantee the origin of products are being used across the EU. Some wineries are putting serial numbers, invisible ink and holograms on their bottles. So-called DNA fingerprinting of milk bacteria pioneered in Switzerland, which isn’t in the EU, is now being tested inside the bloc as a method for identifying cheese. QR codes are also proliferating, including on individual portions of pre-sliced Prosciutto di San Daniele, a raw ham similar to Prosciutto di Parma. A smartphone can be used to show information such as how long the prosciutto has been aged and when it was sliced… The new silicon chips, made by Chicago-based p-Chip, use blockchain technology to authenticate data that can trace the cheese as far back as the producer of the milk used.

The chips have been in advanced testing on more than 100,000 Parmigiano wheels for more than a year. The consortium of producers wants to be sure the chips can stand up to Parmigiano’s aging requirement, which is a minimum of one year and can exceed three years for some varieties… The p-Chips can withstand extreme heat or cold, can be read through ice and can withstand years of storage in liquid nitrogen. They have outperformed RFID chips, which are larger, can be more difficult to attach to products, are more fragile and can’t survive extreme temperatures, according to p-Chip Chief Technology Officer Bill Eibon. Parmigiano producers also use QR codes, but the codes are easily copied and degrade during the cheese’s aging process.

A robot heats the Parmigiano wheel’s casein label — a small plaque made of milk protein that is widely used in the cheese industry — and then inserts the chip on top. A hand-held reader can grab the data from the chips, which cost a few cents each and are similar to the ones that some people have inserted under the skin of their pets. The chips can’t be read remotely. In lab tests, the chips sat for three weeks in a mock-up of stomach acid without leaking any dangerous material. Eibon went a step further, eating one without suffering any ill effects, but he isn’t touting that lest p-Chip face accusations it is tracking people, something that isn’t possible because the chips can’t be read remotely and can’t be read once they are ingested.

“We don’t want to be known as the company accused of tracking people,” said Eibon. “I ate one of the chips and nobody is tracking me, except my wife, and she uses a different method.”

Merck KGaA will soon be using the same chips, the article points out, and the chips “are also being tested in the automotive industry to guarantee the authenticity of car parts.

“The chips could eventually be used on livestock, crops or medicine stored in liquid nitrogen.”

Originally Posted at https://slashdot.org/