Today's temperature monitoring technologies help food companies deliver safe, high-quality products.
The cold chain used to operate in a shadowy area. Retailers and manufacturers would wonder if frozen foods were kept at optimum temperatures during shipment, hoping the quality of their products had not been diminished through thawing and refreezing. But all of that angst-ridden and expensive guesswork is passé because technology allows companies to maintain their cold chains optimally, keeping brand integrity intact through fresher, safer and higher-quality products.
In the past, if retailers suspected frozen products had been thawed and then refrozen, they would usually pass their uncertainty back to the manufacturer. “A standard course for manufacturers was to destroy the entire shipment so as not to take a chance on the quality of the brand’s name,” explains Jack Ampuja, president and CEO of Buffalo, NY-based Supply Chain Optimizers.
Assumptions used to be based on the hope that 3PLs were doing their best in cold chain management. “But today it is a matter of ‘show me’ and people want to see actual records of time-temperature management. Companies are demanding intense record-keeping more than ever because the data allows them to act and manage appropriately,” says Ampuja.
The cold chain is an extreme form of supply chain, requiring more attention to process and temperature dynamics, explains Nick Pacitti, CTL, partner with Memphis-based Sterling Solutions LLC, which provides cold chain management services with in its portfolio of logistics services.
“Even the smallest variations in temperature and humidity can and do reverse advances in food science—equating to lost sales along with million of dollars of spoils and endless consumer complaints,” cautions Pacitti. “Firms invest a significant amount of money in product development, consumer testing, and regulatory compliance. So a poorly designed and executed cold chain places everything at risk—even the entire business.”
He adds that the perishable segment is one of the fastest-growing areas where the stakes are high because they involve brand integrity, customer confidence and market share—all of which are at risk in the fragile cold chain.
DRIVEN BY DATES
Manufacturers conduct extensive research upfront to discover the optimal temperature range their products can endure throughout the supply chain to ensure food safety and product quality. Once these limits have been established, the responsibility for maintaining those temperatures throughout the cold supply chain falls on the shipper, the carrier and the retailer, notes Doug Thurston, director of sales for Boise, ID-based PakSense Inc.
“Our products monitor time and temperature and can advise when one or all of those three parties have not followed proper protocol on a product. Having a historical record of time and temperature allows you to pinpoint exact accountability of who was responsible if a product were to go out of spec,” says Thurston.
Companies not using time-temperature monitoring technologies cannot know, manage or fix any variability in their process, notes Barry Eisenberg, vice president of technical services for Salinas, CA-based River Ranch Fresh Foods. “Without data, you cannot possibly know how you are performing.”
To meet the goals of processors, retailers and consumers, temperature standards must be set to accommodate accurate product behavior over extended periods, says Sterling Solution’s Pacitti. “These standards can then be measured in innovative ways that convert data into meaningful and actionable information that can help companies control their processes more effectively.”
Providing time-temperature data to vouch for quality is a veritable insurance policy, notes Elizabeth Darragh, director of food strategic marketing, Beverly, MA-based Sensitech Inc.