A Matter of Degrees

Today's temperature monitoring technologies help food companies deliver safe, high-quality products.

SQF Certification Helps Solve Cold Chain Issues

More food companies are becoming interested in SQF certification, although only about 10 percent of companies currently are certified, notes John Schulz, director of the Safe Quality Food Institute, a division of the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, VA. “We began actively promoting the program in late 2007,” Schulz says.

The SQF certification is a guideline developed by firms that have experienced and solved a wide range of cold chain issues, notes Nick Pacitti, CTL, partner with Memphis-based Sterling Solutions LLC. “It provides a faster learning curve based on tried-and-proven practices and the guidelines offer a structured way of thinking about issues that will further provide for a strong, effective, and disciplined system promoting consumer satisfaction, loyalty and continuous improvement.”

Food companies need to demonstrate a set of prescribed practices and compliance standards to assure cold chain control and to validate the process is working, continues Pacitti. SQF certification will guide that process in assisting and guiding firms to have in place eight components, he advises. These include:

• An available cold chain policy;
• Temperature-range stipulation on all
• Defined acceptance points;
• Product limits;
• Suitable staff training;
• Self and third party audits;
• Rules-based control and monitoring
systems; and
• A formalized validation process to
assure the process works.

Pacitti developed “STAIRS,” six guiding principles for effective cold chain management. “These components can form the basis for SQF guidance development,” he suggests.

Simplify the communication between a company and its providers.

Test: and validate the systems and processes that are not yours.

Avoid the risks and failures in prescribed service and compliance agreements.

Inspect the actual performance and ask if products being delivered are required.

Regulate and modify activities and processes to reduce variance.

Streamline the management of logistics compliance.

SQF offers two codes of compliance—the SQF 1000 relating to all pre-farm foods and the SQF 2000 relating everything from post-farm forward, including manufacturers, explains Schulz.

“We look at everything from product management within the food facilities—such as temperature integrity. We review post-harvest cooling of products and packing at the sheds and we review cold chain management from farm to slaughterhouse to further processing facilities and the cold chain management practiced between facilities,” says Schulz. —A.T.

Cold Chain Management: Monitoring Each Link In The Chain

The cold chain is a subset of the total supply chain involving production, storage and distribution of perishable products requiring temperature control in order to preserve their characteristics and associated value, says Nick Pacitti, CTL, partner with Memphis-based Sterling Solutions LLC.

“Cold refers to the need to control prescribed temperatures in preventing the growth of microorganisms in food while maintaining its wholesomeness through processing, shipping and delivery and display at the store level,” says Pacitti.

The term “chain” focuses on monitoring the chain of custody in which each segment of processing, storage, transport and delivery is linked to the step before and after—with proper documentation, records and visibility throughout the process, explains Pacitti.

The biggest challenges facing suppliers and retailers and other supply chain intermediaries include the inability to set standards properly against product specs; the inability to monitor the standards; the inability to predict when something may go wrong; and the inability to control the cold chain, Pacitti continues.

Improving the cold chain requires three actions: they need to be instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. In stating cold chains should be instrumented, Pacitti means that the temperature of reefers must correlate to product temperatures.

“This correlation must take into account the cumulative average of temperatures over the duration of a load or delivery route,” he explains. “Average temperatures mean very little, as it is the cumulative temperatures that have the greatest impact on product quality and safety. In order to determine these impacts, products must be tested for stability and temperature abuse. Based on the results of these tests, we determine and set the standards for the cold chain.”

Cold chains need to be interconnected to customers, suppliers and IT systems, as well as to products, trailers and other smart objects that monitor the cold chain, explains Pacitti. “Through GPS and RFID, these prescribed temperature readings can be communicated in 10-minute intervals to selected managers. A proactive guidance system can mitigate problems well before they rise to unsafe levels.”

Intelligent cold chains are those with advanced analytics and modeling based on food science and safety guidelines, which will assist managers with complex decisions in practical and efficient ways.

Proper cold chain management depends on each critical link in the chain understanding product storage and handling requirements. Technologies such as sensors, RFID, wireless and wired networks are potential components of a model to ensure an ongoing portable record of each product or its surroundings throughout its lifecycle.

“Information related to the state of the product is critical,” states Pacitti. “Remedy and control are required to ensure that product is not compromised.” —A.T.

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