Cool It!

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


Randall offers new user-friendly products for truck doors. “Side-door curtains are not new, but over the years we have made them easier for users,” says Carey. For instance, on very cold days, the strips can freeze and slap workers in the face as they pass through the doors. “Sometimes they would just push them out of the way, leaving the interior of the truck open to the weather. The answer to this problem is the Randall 40-inch wide curtain made with four 10-inch-wide strips. The new curtain has a cable that drivers can pull to open the two middle strips so there is a 20-inch-wide opening. The curtain closes automatically after 30 seconds. So our goal at Randall is to develop practical solutions because people will use products only if they are practical.”

On the waterfront: StarTrak recently introduced an end-to-end-communications product for ocean reefer containers in its ReeferTrak series called

ReeferTrak Mariner.

“One of the major issues in monitoring ocean reefer containers is the challenge measuring temperatures from end to end,” says Tom Robinson, executive vice president of the Morris Plains, NJ, company. “You have to have a device with ubiquitous coverage while the container is on the ship and while it is on land in any given country. The communications platforms have made that much more feasible. The monitoring capability allows ReeferTrak Mariner to measure temperatures when the reefer is on using cellular communications. It also provides various levels of temperature tracking so customers can bring higher-quality products to market.”

Under Control

Control system advancements are providing customers with the ability to fine-tune temperature control for individual food products, reports Mark Fragnito, electronics product manager for Carrier Transicold in Athens, GA. “The systems are configurable for a balance between best temperature control and the highest efficiency for fuel economy because the cost of fuel is on everyone’s mind today.”

Carrier’s new multi-temp refrigeration hybrid unit (Vector 6600MT) provides high refrigeration capacity while delivering up to 20 percent greater fuel efficiency than its predecessor, says Fragnito.

“Customers can control the performance of the reefer in terms of how tightly or loosely temperatures need to be maintained. Our digital data recorder provides access to verify performance and, using data transfer tools such as a PCMCIA card, customers can extract information for a better understanding of equipment performance,” he says.

A new feature available on the control system—Intelliset—allows customers to configure reefers for several different food products. Customers can set parameters such as the required set-points, the amount of temperature drift, and the required air flow for each product. “These are all pre-programmed into their equipment and the driver just picks products from the list and the rest is done by the control system,” adds Fragnito.

Future Vistas

Food companies will continue to need advanced products that are user-friendly, that enhance temperature optimization, and that provide information to assure products are maintained at the right temperature throughout the cold chain.

“You can think about this as an ROI equation,” explains Darragh at Sensitech. “You either save money, or you make money. On the side of saving, you want to maximize your resource allocation by using as few people as possible to get the most out of your operation. You make money by not having to throw away spoiled food and by having it available as high-quality products that attract repeat shoppers. Proper cold chain maintenance can help accomplish both of these things.” d

Rail continues to be the value choice for shippers transporting certain food products. According to Andrew Fuller, director of marketing for Toronto-based CN (Canadian National Railroad), intermodal rail continues to grow in the food and beverage industry.

He notes that the grocery segment represents about 18 percent of CN’s overall business and annual growth in this segment grew year over year by about 5.9 percent from 2006 through 2009.

“We are finding that as food customers examine and redesign their distribution networks, they are evaluating using rail over truck to achieve greater value,” Fuller says.

Here are two new rail services designed to transport food products.

Protective Service

CN recently launched its EcoTherm product, designed to protect food products as they travel cross-country during cold Canadian winters, notes Fuller. In fact, Wal-Mart recognized EcoTherm as a transportation service exemplifying outstanding innovation because of its ability to provide green and clean transportation with a 48-percent fuel savings to the retail giant.

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