Keeping it Cool from Farm to Fork

(This is the third blog in a five-part series of posts related to progress on the Food Safety Modernization Act and the importance of track-and-trace.)

There are a number of ongoing risks in the food supply chain that can result in compromised food safety. However, SAP boasts a powerful solution to manage food safety from the point that raw food ingredients are received, to the processing, packaging and distribution of product to retail outlets.

The journey from farm to fork currently consists of the three distinct parts mentioned above—farm, processing and distribution—and in that space, there is ample room for error. For example, farmers have little control the quality of a product once it leaves the farm, moving from raw material, to handling and shipping. Additionally, the food processor forfeits control of the product during shipping and handling when the processed produce leaves the premises. To remedy such supply chain limitations, food processors currently are looking at emerging technologies like RFID and Telemetry that allow them to proactively gauge quality parameters, rather than react after an incident is reported.

Specifically, cold chain management is critical with regard to food safety and management. Physical conditions like temperature play a vital role in maintaining the quality of the produce from the time of harvest until the moment it reaches the consumer. Furthermore, the path between harvest and retailer for perishable produce involves, as mentioned, many steps and handoffs. To maximize quality, value and shelf life, it’s essential that temperature is monitored and managed throughout the cold chain.

Cold Chain Handoff: The chart demonstrates the movement of a product from field to store. Typically, products are moved using a combination of trucks, planes and trains.


At each point along the way, there is potential for trouble. Produce could wait in the field, sit in the sun on a loading dock, or be stored in a truck with broken or uneven refrigeration. Each handoff also creates the opportunity to break the chain of responsibility. For example, without pallet-level temperature monitoring and logging, the warehouse can claim that the produce was fine when it left, leaving the distributor wondering about the quality and remaining shelf life. Ultimately, the retail grocer is left to determine the quality or a product, and can either accept or reject a shipment or re-estimate its value with only limited or inaccurate information.

Additionally, breaks in the cold chain for perishable food categories such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, etc., can result in hazardous bacteria contamination or product impurities due to contaminants such as glass, chemicals or metallic ingredients, a primary cause for food recalls. These bacteria can cause food poisoning, listeriosis (listeria), and botulism.  As a result, it is crucial to have an efficient cold chain both to ensure consumer safety and improve the economic efficiency of the food value chain.

Therefore, cold chain optimization for perishable foods is key to managing the food safety process. In fact, according to a recent study by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. The UNEP study reported that up to one-quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States are lost (wasted) between the field and the table. Another study done by the University of Florida Food Distribution and Retailing Resource Center identified that one-third of shipped produce is wasted annually, amounting to a loss of $35 billion each year. Half of that waste is a result of temperature problems experienced between the grower and the retailer – totaling more than $17 billion a year. Successfully reducing waste has a direct benefit to the bottom line. Using strawberries as an example, one grocery chain estimated that reducing lost strawberry product by just 1% would add more than $1.1 million of profit to their bottom line annually.

Certain types of produce are more susceptible than others. Berries, cherries and mushrooms, for example, are extremely temperature sensitive. In the following example from the University of Florida, a study found that strawberries should be shipped at a consistent temperature of 34° Fahrenheit. A temperature drop of 2° will freeze and destroy the berries resulting in a complete loss of product. Shipping at an average temperature of just 42° (an increase of only 8°), shaves seven days off the shelf life, significantly impacting product quality and potential revenues. Temperature monitoring throughout the cold chain and acting on temperature changes in real-time enables documented delivery quality and increased customer satisfaction.

As a result, proper temperature monitoring and management throughout the cold chain is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Even relatively small variations in temperature can significantly impact the shelf life of fresh produce – and its value.

Stay tuned to our next blog in the series that will focus on specific ways to combat the issues of quality such as temperature control.

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