Cool It!

Technology keeps pace with food companies' need to optimize cold chain maintenance.


Today’s consumers want only the highest-quality foods to be available to them when they shop at their local supermarkets. They don’t think about the enormous effort food logistics companies, growers, processors and manufacturers assume in meeting this expectation requiring that foods remain at precise temperatures throughout the cold supply chain. Technology companies understand these pressures as they develop and manufacture products that help protect foods along every critical control point throughout the cold logistics chain.

Safety and quality issues are among the major trends in the industry today, notes Chuck Carey, vice president of sales for Randall Manufacturing in Elmhurst, IL. “Consumers are loyal to supermarkets offering the highest-quality food products. So our customers are more concerned than ever about maintaining food quality and food safety to earn this loyalty. This means that when they take delivery of food products, they demand assurance that they are receiving them at the right temperature and that temperature set-points have been maintained throughout the cold chain.”

The cost of damaged food products is dramatic. In 2008, total shrink at the retail level was about 2.4 percent of retail sales, reports Elizabeth Darragh, director of food strategic marketing for Sensitech Inc. in Beverly, MA. This includes inventory problems, theft, and perishable shrink. “So when you consider that 1 percent of that 2.4 percent could be caused by perishable shrink, this equates to about $7 billion based on total supermarket sales for 2008 at $547 billion.” She adds that these figures are pretty much stable for the industry, year over year.

Quality is a huge driver in the competitive world in which the food industry participates, states Darragh. “By aiming to control end-user quality, companies have to begin monitoring very early in the cold supply chain so they can understand the treatment their products are being subjected to.

It is not just about making accept-reject decisions; it is more about companies wanting help in understanding where their processes might be breaking down so they can make the appropriate adjustments.” The way they do this is by having the appropriate data to inform them of decisions they must make.

The Big Picture

To assist in the accept-reject decision companies need to make when they take receipt of food products, a recording device is typically placed within the shipment to ensure proper temperatures have been maintained up to the point of receipt. “If I am going to take ownership of a product, I want to be sure I am getting the absolute highest level of quality,” says Darragh.

The cold chain directly impacts not only quality and safety, but consumer trust and loyalty as well. For example, when french fries or frozen dough are temperature-abused, there is no way to determine this until the products are cooked, reports Darragh. “French fries become very greasy from absorbing too much oil. Ice crystals form in frozen dough, creating big holes in the baked product.”

So food companies are demanding a broader perspective in the data captured throughout the cold journey to target any trends signaling potential problems.

“It’s not enough just to look at individual trips in isolation,” explains Darragh. “Progressive vendors want data on the last one hundred or the last thousand trips so they can see if there are trends developing. It becomes a matter of simply getting back to basics around your processes and making sure your trailers are properly pre-cooled and that sure all of your equipment is in optimum working condition.”

Watch That Temperature

By land: We know just how fragile the cold chain is and how each segment along the chain must live up to its responsibility to maintain required temperatures. “Everything could be optimal from the farm to the DC,” notes Carey at Randall. “But when the truck is loaded with little concern for proper procedures regarding open doors during loading or unloading, all of the preceding optimal precautions are undone in an instant.”

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