“It is far more proactive today to manage the cold chain as part of your supply chain management to assure there are no breakdowns during all the handoff points. As far as quality and safety are concerned, microbes can grow at an astronomical rate just through a minor infraction of the optimal temperature,” says Darragh.
The transportation segment has long been identified as a significant trouble-spot in the cold chain. Common problems include open doors on a hot day, reefer units not running at optimal capacity or too much product jammed into the reefer, hindering proper air flow throughout the trailer.
“I have seen truckers pull into a DC with products that had been transported at the proper temperature only to encounter a long wait at the DC,” reports Thurston. “Serious problems arise if the back door is open while the trucker waits. It’s a shame because up until the truck arrived at the DC, products had been kept at the proper temperature.”
Another critical trouble-spot occurs during the receiving process. “I have seen hundreds of examples where a load of fresh chicken or meat arrives when store employees are busy setting their cases,” continues Thurston. “So those pallets sit at room temperature for hours and this is where you can lose a large percentage of shelf life equating to a number of days.”
Eisenberg adds that River Ranch Fresh Foods uses temperature monitoring in trucks as an insurance policy. “This is the No. 1 use of temperature monitoring devices in the industry. If there is a quality problem on arrival, we always ask for the temperature chart from the recorder that tells us if the quality issue was caused by temperature fluctuation during transportation.”
QUICK DECISIONS AT RIVER RANCH
Thurston notes that PakSense products focus not only on the temperature of the trailer interior, but on the product temperature itself. “The first thing the grower, shipper or packer has to ensure is that their products are pre-cooled prior to shipping. This is extremely important and this is where the cold chain really begins.”
PakSense offers its Ultra Contact Labels and Ultra Contact Readers, as well as a wireless version of the label and reader. “The reason we call them labels is because of their size, which is the size of a sugar packet,” says Thurston.
The popularity of the PakSense solution relies on its small footprint, cost-effectiveness and its easy-to-use design requiring no extensive infrastructure, notes David Light, CEO of PakSense. Users snap the corner of the label to activate units that record five-minute average temperatures. A LED light signals an alert when temperatures go out of range, enabling immediate accept/reject decisions. Wireless units require just a push of a button to activate and readers can access data from 300 feet, downloading data into an MS Excel spreadsheet.
A common problem undermining cold chain optimization is the cold case, which often is not calibrated properly. “A medium-sized retail chain can lose up to several millions of dollars a year in cold-case maintenance and product loss because cold cases break down,” adds Light. “The average worth of a frozen cold case ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.”
To help customers eliminate these kinds of breakdowns, PakSense offers a database monitoring program, Cold Case Monitoring System. “It’s a management tool helping store managers make better decision on when they might want to replace a cold case,” says Light. Wireless labels are placed close to compressors, recording temperatures every minute to provide a record of temperature fluctuations. This database product will be available this fall.
River Ranch Fresh Foods, managing produce harvesting in Salinas and King City, CA, uses PakSense labels to monitor and track time and temperature trends from harvest to arrival at the company’s processing plant. Revenues are between $150 million and $200 million annually. In addition to supporting its own brand, the company is one of the largest private label produce suppliers in the U.S.
Every week, the company produces between 3.5 million to 4.5 million pounds of product, including iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, cut vegetables, and bagged salads and spinach. “We are looking for trends in consistency or exceptions,” reports Eisenberg. These products are particularly susceptible to quality issues arising from condensation caused by fluctuating temperatures once sealed in a bag.