Cold Chain Management Tools: Assessments and Audits

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Two essential tools used as a part of the cold chain management process are assessments and audits. These tools are utilized at different points in the cold chain management process and have different objectives. However, at times they may be combined to accomplish dual objectives.

The cold chain assessment is designed to measure the effectiveness of the cold chain management process. Through the assessment, gaps are identified, issues are raised, and risks are determined. Upon completion of the assessment, management will have a good perspective on where resources should be deployed in addressing cold chain risks. Of course, the hard part comes after the assessment—what must be put into place to address the risks and issues identified?

The assessment is actually the first part of the overall cold chain management process. These management elements include:

  • Assessment
  • Policy Development
  • Process Development
  • Management Practices and Controls
  • Audit
  • Performance Feedback/Post Audit Results


Most companies already have at least some portions of the cold chain policy developed and have implemented specific processes, practices, and controls as a part of that policy. However, the assessment focuses on where policy and controls fall short. Assessment results will highlight areas and process gaps needing special attention.

Before beginning the assessment, management must determine its scope, both in terms of process and products. How far upstream and downstream will the assessment cover? What products or product groups will be included? These scope decisions will include tradeoffs of efficiency versus comprehensiveness. The assessment begins with an understanding of product movement, transactions, information flows, and process times. This information often provides insight about the entire cold chain not previously known by management.

Once the process is detailed and mapped, critical reviews are made. One of the best methods to identify risks is a systematic, thermal mapping of product and ambient temperatures throughout the end-to-end cold chain. It should be performed over multiple days, conditions, carriers, route or trip durations, facilities, et cetera in order to provide a practical operating reality. The data should be summarized graphically to show a single system result across all testing performed. It is usually very difficult to understand the behavior of the system when only multiple, individual snapshots of results are provided. In other words, a grasp of totality must be reported in meaningful ways.

Once completed, testing results and reviews must be correlated to provide a consistent understanding of the cold chain. In many cases, this process yields completely unexpected results. An example of the unexpected occurred during an assessment involving a multi-delivery route of refrigerated product in Minnesota during a frigid January. Our findings indicated exceptionally high product temperatures for several risky meat products. This was unexpected because of single digit temperatures. Further analysis revealed that because of the cold weather, refrigerated trailers were being heated by the driver.

Whereas an assessment is performed to determine areas at risk and requiring corrective action, the audit is used to determine if the cold chain actually operates as intended for those processes designed by management. The audit reviews compliance with processes and controls specified and established by management. For contrast, the assessment is about the design of the cold chain and whether its processes are adequate versus compliance with those processes. Management may have designed excellent cold chain management processes, but if not executed as intended, the system will be fraught with risk.

To begin the audit process, scope is determined, objectives are set, and the process design is provided by management. Audit tests are then designed to test compliance with the policies that management has implemented. Ideally, these tests are designed statistically so that results can be summarized with a confidence level and precision. In addition, other process testing is conducted as an additional way to determine the processes in place are yielding the results intended. This may include individual temperature samples and product temperature tracking over several days, conditions throughout distribution areas, and so on. As in the assessment, if the results of the compliance testing are not consistent with the process testing results, then further analysis must be done. In some cases, it may be determined the process is operating as intended, but the process is ineffective at controlling product quality.

Assessments and audits are valuable elements of the cold chain management toolkit. The assessment is most effective in gauging the effectiveness of cold chain design, while the audit is the essential component in evaluating how well the management oversight process works.

A great way to learn more about the design and application of cold chain assessments and audits is to attend the Cold Chain Management Assessment and Audit Course, scheduled for April 11-13 at Georgia Tech’s Supply Chain and Logistics Institute. For more information, visit, or contact Carole Bennett at (404) 894-9138 or via e-mail at [email protected].