Cold Chain Technology is More Than Temperature Monitoring

At FreshTemp we are committed to making our product be more than a
simple thermometer. We meet with experts in the field of cold chain
logistics to help your temperature data work for you. One such expert
is Nick Pacitti, a partner with Sterling Solutions and a co-founding
member of Georgia Tech’s Integrated Food Chain Center, has over 30
years experience in the field and he has agreed to allow us to
republish some of his articles. The following was originally published
on foodlogistics.com on Feb. 17, 2012:

We often hear how the food chain needs to synchronize more than ever
to improve the accuracy of their business data and the efficiency of
their processes. In cold chains, a bit more specificity is needed in
that data must be spot-on accurate in terms of product condition and
shelf life considerations. This requires a combination of science,
process and technology.

Without the right combination, technology alone is limited as proven
by the 25 percent waste factor created each year in the fragile cold
chain. As hard as it to fathom, some of the best technologies cannot
nudge the waste factor. For perspective, over 100 billion pounds of
food, or more than a quarter of the 400 billion pounds of edible food,
is spoiled each year.

Compounding this challenge is the fast-paced, short-lived perishable
supply chains in which products can flow from source to customers
within a matter of weeks, days, and sometimes hours. These concerns
have everything to do with not only accurate data, but data that is
relevant to what needs to be tracked and monitored. As the food chain
is about time and space, it is also about time and data. What is grown
is as important as where it is grown. What is processed is just as
important as how it is processed. What is tracked and monitored is
just as important as how it is tracked.

However, when all of these considerations and controls are put in
place, we continue to see spoilage and disputes. Many times, there are
hot spots along the food chain that begin the spoilage process. The
real challenge is when products are exposed to intermittent and/or
gradual lapses in cold chain controls where cumulative quality
degradation is less obvious and seldom detected. This insidious
phenomenon represents the most abuse as the vast majority of loads do
not monitor product condition. These gradual or intermittent lapses
contribute to shelf life reductions and, in some cases, outright
spoilage as products arrive at a distribution point or in a store’s

The use of challenge or stability testing can simulate real-life
operating conditions in measuring spoilage bacteria against time and
temperature trends. The food testing firm Eurofins, based in Des
Moines, Iowa is well known for their work in correlating spoilage
bacterial levels to time and temperature controls. Once the stability
of a product or products is known under a host of environments, cold
chain technology can play a significant role.

Indirectly, the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into
law January 2011 will have some effect as it mandates rigid plans for
monitoring and taking corrective actions for the growth of food borne
pathogens and other contaminants. By law, processors must perform a
hazard analysis of their facilities and distribution assets to
identify potential areas that jeopardize food safety, and to then
determine what preventive controls to put in place. According to Tom
Chicone of Cooltrax, a cold chain technology firm, HACCP requirements
compel food handlers to construct internal plans in managing and
controlling food safety processes. A host of technologies can be
applied in providing dependable monitoring and management of critical
control points, of which time and temperature are critical components.

Cold chain technology vendors represent advancement in the protection
of perishable foods. They are designed to manage and verify real time
temperatures and safety parameters surrounding refrigerated perishable
goods throughout the supply chain.

For example, Cooltrax has created a tool that provides a real time
view of the entire cold chain process from harvest to point of sale.
As a Web-based solution, HACCP plans can now go well beyond the plant
walls. All of these elements are now priority mandates within the
regulations of the new food safety act. With real time alerts and
reporting, Cooltrax offers an automated management capability to
support HACCP plans while providing electronic verification for
regulatory inspections.

HACCP automation and validation has been a monumental challenge beyond
the plant and now that chasm is beginning to close. The use of cold
chain technologies are now breaking out of their classic temperature
monitoring limitations where their value is now being seen in
minimizing or eliminating delays and disputes within the cold chain.
Just as importantly, technology such as Cooltrax is realizing millions
of dollars in annual operating savings in being able to remotely
control reduction of pre-chilling hours, fuel consumption, and reefer
operating hours. As diesel fuel ratchets up to $5 per gallon, every
hour of reduction in the use of the mechanical refrigeration unit can
be substantial for any size reefer fleet.

Cold chain technology is going well beyond temperature monitoring. It
is enabling the use of engineered standards for refrigerated fleets in
predicting and controlling how much energy is needed for various types
of refrigerated loads. Refrigerated fleets of all sizes can now
operate in standardized and more efficient ways. From product
protection to automated HACCP compliance, through to more efficient
operations, cold chain technologies are about assuring public health
and brand loyalty.