Edible microchip in Parmesan cheese to verify authenticity

© Jiri Hera/stock.adobe.com
A tiny chip in Parmesan wheels is intended to allow the northern Italian cheese to be tracked even across extended supply chains and to distinguish originals from fakes. The chip is even said to be edible without any concerns, the manufacturer says.

As one of the very frequently counterfeited types of cheese, the well‑known Parmesan cheese is to be better protected against counterfeiting in the future. For this, the Italian Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano (CFPR), in cooperation with the Dutch company Kaasmerk Matec and the U.S. company p‑chip, is turning to extraordinary technical measures.

To this end, special chips the size of a grain of salt, produced by p‑Chip, are to be inserted at the edge of a cheese wheel. The chip is intended to supplement the edible label made of cheese protein that has been applied to each individual cheese wheel for more than 20 years, giving it a unique ID.

The chips are backed by blockchain technology. According to p‑Chip, the stored information can be read with a laser. The aim is to enable verification of whether a cheese is in fact the original, which is protected throughout the EU. The data read out includes information such as the ID and the time of production. The ID is intended to create a digital twin of each Parmesan wheel, which can be used to trace a product back along the entire supply chain.

The manufacturer, p‑Chip, claims that the chip is edible. Even though the edge of the cheese wheel, where the chip is located, is usually not eaten, it would not be harmful if a chip was swallowed. Bill Eibon, the company’s chief technology officer, reportedly ate one of the chips to illustrate the point. There would also be no danger of people being tracked if they had a chip in their stomach – as it could not be read from a distance.

For Parmesan, a European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) specifies the geographical regions from which it must originate to be an original. Last year, according to media reports, original Parmesan worth around 2.9 billion euros was sold. However, sales of counterfeit Parmesan were also very high, estimated at around two billion euros a year. The manufacturers’ association CFPR hopes to curb this illegal trade with the new technology.

In addition to digital product authentication, the chip is also expected to contribute to quality and inventory control, serialization, and improved consumer safety. Since 2022, more than 100,000 wheels of cheese have already been fitted with a chip in a test run.

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