IBM will act as an industrial advisory board member to the Integrated Food Cold Chain Center, reports Jane Snowdon, Ph.D., senior manager, industry solutions and emerging business, smarter building research, for the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.
“We will provide guidance and ideas to direct the Center’s research agenda,” Snowdon says. “We also anticipate fostering interactions with Georgia Tech and with the international ecosystem of university partners and industrial partners in joint workshops and seminars.”
Of course, consumer confidence is won or lost based on the capability of cold chain participants to deliver safe and fresh food to consumers. In a study conducted last year, shortly after the tragic peanut debacle, IBM found that consumer confidence and trust in retailers, manufacturers and grocers is increasingly declining. “So now is really the time for all the players in the food supply chain to rebuild consumer confidence by modernizing the global supply chain so the production, safety, and quality of food can be improved,” says Snowdon.
“I think what Georgia Tech is doing to bring together these stakeholders will really make a positive difference,” continues Snowdon. “Now companies will have a trusted source of updated information relating to traceability. Companies will have brand empowerment because this information will enable them to make claims that they have real-time information about where their products are along the chain.”
Supply chain efficiencies will enable companies to accelerate their product flows, thereby allowing them to reduce their inventory levels through increased supply chain visibility, explains Snowdon. Companies will be better able to protect their brand through risk mitigation by identifying risks and isolating contaminated products. Companies can assure regulatory compliance with individual retailer mandates and government regulations. “So traceability plays a very critical role in creating transparency that allows companies to mitigate recalls and support product marketing claims.”
A few of IBM’s traceability projects can offer ideas to the Center to drive technologies to enhance traceability. For instance, IBM is working with a major German food retailer who is applying RFID smart labels to meat products.
“The meat is tracked by the date it was placed into a refrigerated display case and the date it is removed from the case by a consumer,” explains Snowdon. “This helps provide workable information for the store to monitor the freshness of the products while controlling the environment in which the products are stored. It also helps manage inventory levels by matching sales data. This is one example of how we are teaming with food retailers to ensure that food in the freezer stays fresh.”
For a Norwegian food retailer, IBM developed a smarter food-tracking solution using RFID technology to track and trace meat and poultry from the farm to the store shelf. “Offering transparency throughout the cold chain ensures that food is maintained in optimal condition,” Snowdon explains. “It also helps suppliers and grocers reduce their costs and improve food safety, thereby increasing consumer confidence.”
Another practice worth noting in food traceability advancements is the example of A&P, who is applying bar codes to every individual egg in egg cartons. “These are examples of the shift we are seeing in our foods that provides more accountability in the food chain. So there is more information available today to do analytics to be able to look for trends and to more quickly pinpoint and react to any type of problem in the food chain before it becomes a problem. The next wave will be to use information to help us make better business decisions that can help mitigate recalls.” —A.T.
Transportation: Critical Point In Cold Chain Management
Transportation is a critical element in the cold chain, notes Nick Pacitti, partner with Sterling Solutions LLC in Memphis. “The transportation piece in the food cold chain is referred to as ‘the last mile’ in the supply chain and it is the area in the cold chain that places food at its most vulnerable if temperature abuse occurs,” he says.
Numerous environmental conditions can cause temperatures to fluctuate, including the number of times doors are opened to deliver products, the volume delivered, time of year (summer opposed to winter) and geographic area (south or north).
“Most carriers cannot tell you when there is an issue, except when there is a major reefer breakdown,” continues Pacitti. “Some will say they do what their customers tell them to do, which in many cases relates to what the temperature of the trailer should be. Temperature abuse plays havoc on product and most of this happens in the final mile of delivery.”
Carriers and logistics providers must manage temperatures in a more scientific way, asserts Pacitti. “The Center offers a resource for carriers and their customers to come to learn the best way to protect products and to recognize that product abuse is a cumulative process. Cold chain management is evolving into a regulatory tool, as well as into a suppler-retailer-specific requirement.”
Jane Griffith notes that the Center’s mission to integrate all participants in the cold chain will bring independent haulers into the fold. “This is a very large group that needs to understand their role
and responsibility in maintaining the cold chain,” says Griffith, senior director of quality assurance and food safety for Wawa Inc. “Many of us use them and sometimes they are not as aware of their responsibilities as they could be. So we see the educational opportunities the Center will offer helping greatly to improve this situation.”
Risk management is a critical element for transportation providers
to consider. Phil Dunavant notes that he expects the Center to bring discipline to the transportation process. “I believe it will help us raise the bar relative to the capabilities of independent haulers,” says Dunavant, COO of Memphis-based ReTrans Inc. The company is a multi-modal transportation provider working with independent haulers nationwide.Protecting the safety and quality of food is a major concern especially considering the number of participants in the cold chain, Dunavant continues. “So from a risk management perspective, we want to make sure that our carriers have the required controls in place to provide the proper environment for the food cold chain.”
He envisions guidance from the Center will help relative to establishing KPIs that measure carrier performance. “We expect that the Center will shed light on what is needed out there to ensure that carriers are responsible in making the cold chain even more efficient. It will offer carriers a better understanding of their responsibility to maintain the cold chain and it will also give them an exposure to what the rules are and what is expected of them.”
Transportation is, after all, the integrating function of the cold chain, reminds Chris Lofgren, president and CEO of Schneider National in Green Bay, WI. “We will be looking for guidance from Georgia Tech as to where there is opportunity for value to occur as we move inventories of highly perishable products. I think the Center will help us leverage information and communication and how that relates to understanding how the information flows relative to the physical flow of goods. This information will help us learn how we can drive efficiencies even further as we identify additional opportunities.”
Lofgren looks for guidance from the Center in how to balance backhauls with refrigerated equipment. “The value you generate across that asset is diminished if you are not using it to transport refrigerated or temperature-controlled products. So we hope to learn how to have these operations work a lot more efficiently.” —A.T.