Resolving Cold Chain Conundrums

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

For the fourth part of this series, we will zero in on cold chain temperature management challenges and solutions to ensure seamless transportation of pallets from farm to fork.

With approximately 1.1 billion pallets of produce shipped annually to retail grocers in North America and Europe, one of the biggest challenges facing the cold chain is how to track this massive volume of produce cost-effectively. This problem certainly is not new, and without a viable method to cut the aforementioned $17 billion in waste, the cold chain will continue to sieve money with the grocers often left holding the bag – a bag filled with spoiled fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, an effective temperature management system is crucial beyond delivery of a quality product. Brand equity can suffer should consumers shy away from particular retail outlets or grocers due to a poor experience. Furthermore, should a grocer have to reject an entire shipment due to quality concerns, brands can miss revenue opportunities when they are “out of stock” on a particular item.

Various temperature monitoring efforts to resolve these cold chain conundrums have been implemented at different points throughout the chain  including environmental monitoring, “truck level” monitoring and pallet level monitoring, each of which are outlined below. As you will notice, pallet level monitoring is the preferred temperature management solution.

  • Environmental Monitoring: Environmental monitoring of the tractor trailer or the cold storage facility is not an ideal solution as it does not accurately track the condition of each pallet of produce leading to assumptions on the quality and condition of the entire shipment since it is known that the cooling (and quality) is not uniform. The result is unnecessary waste and “finger pointing” in assessing waste liability.
  • Truck Level” Monitoring: This monitoring method is executed by putting one or two temperature monitoring tags in the refrigerated trailer alongside the produce. While “truck level” monitoring provides some detail on temperature consistency, it’s hardly adequate for monitoring the condition of each pallet as temperatures through the trailer can vary significantly. Additionally, it does not account for the fact that the remaining shelf life of produce varies at the pallet level.
  • Pallet Level Monitoring: Pallet level monitoring ensures accurate temperature management from harvest through retail delivery when implemented alongside a FEFO (First Expiry (or expiration date), First Out) inventory management model (vs. the more traditional FIFO, or First In, First Out method). This solution accounts for the dynamic temperature levels across the distribution process, in turn, increasing revenues by maximizing produce shelf life. An accurate assessment of remaining shelf life results in effective, real-time decision making, waste reduction and quality improvement.

Several companies are working to perfect a comprehensive in-pallet temperature tracking method for produce throughout the cold chain. For example, on the island of Oahu, Armstrong Produce is working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to optimize the cold chain from the warehouse to the retailers, where spoilage due to exposure to the tropical Hawaiian climate is a significant problem. Many brands are implementing state-of-the-art wireless RFID solutions to pack cost-effective and reusable temperature monitoring tags that can be read inside the pallet within the packed produce to monitor its temperature from farm to storefront with little or no change to existing processes.

Stay tuned to our next blog in the series for more on specific on how brands can execute these solutions to make it all work.

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