Parmesan Makers Add Microchips To Cheese Wheels To Foil Counterfeiters

Chicago-based p-Chip boasts its nanotechnology can be added to “virtually any physical good.” Its micro-transponders can add tracking and authentication to electronics and computing goods, product packaging, automotive components, and more. Per our headline, p-Chip has recently developed a method to add integrated tracking to foodstuffs. Its first success story in the world of edibles is within the purportedly widely counterfeited Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

People say microchips are everywhere. This statement certainly applies in 2023, with people packing ubiquitous smart devices, many household goods becoming intelligent and connected, and the relentless march of the (A)IoT. However, news that microchips are deployed inside foodstuffs may even raise the most jaded eyebrow.

Fighting counterfeiting is essential to protect many businesses. However, it has not been easy to track and authenticate edible products until now. In the EU alone, more than 3,500 food products have received protected status, vital to keep these signature industries alive. These characterful niche food businesses generate more than $87 billion annually.

The Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made using traditional ingredients and methods in a specific region of Italy. Its worldwide sales add up to a cool $2.44 billion. Sadly, for authentic businesses, it is estimated that counterfeit copies rake in almost as much, about $2 billion.

The p-Chip micro-transponder is a grain of salt-sized silicon chip containing a unique identification code that is attached to the silicon substrate. When a modulated laser pulse scans the chip, power goes through its circuits and transmits a unique code via ultra-low radio frequency waves.

If you are wondering about using a p-Chip instead of an RFID tag, the former boasts several advantages. According to the maker, p-Chip devices are smaller, cheaper (a few cents each), tougher, and more secure than nearest competitor RFID.

(Image credit: p-Chip)

Some impressive claims for p-Chips are that:

  • They are “virtually impossible to duplicate or counterfeit.”
  • They are “tiny, durable, and affordable digital crypto anchors.”
  • They can withstand extreme temperatures (-200°C to 500°C).
  • They are microwave hardy.
  • They are claimed to be safe for direct food contact.
  • They can withstand solvents and reagents.
  • They can be scanned through paper, glass, animal tissue, frost, labels, etc.

To embed the p-Chip in a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheel, the chip is inserted into a casein label on the cheese wheel, which becomes part of the cheese rind during its preparation process. Cheese buyers aren’t going to eat this embedded label.

Italy’s parmesan makers are testing this technology, with over 100,000 cheeses maturing for the past year with p-Chips micro-transponders in the rind. This testing phase has been deemed necessary as the years-long maturation process for the cheese, including hot saltwater immersion, can degrade alternatives like QR codes and RFID tags.

Tom’s Hardware readers will be well aware of the fight against counterfeiters in the PC hardware, devices, and components markets. Perhaps some of our favorite tech companies could use p-Chips in their longstanding fight against fakes.