Keep Fresh Food Fresh

The delicate dance of getting perishables where it needs to go, when it needs to get there and under the perfect conditions, is nothing short of a logistical ballet — one that needs to be carefully choreographed in order to get it right.

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Today’s busy customers demand fresher, more interesting grab-and-go offerings from their grocers and convenience stores. To meet these needs, transportation providers must guarantee that deliveries will be on time, with built-in flexibility to respond when volumes spike. Maintaining cold chain integrity is vital to the safe transport of perishables, helping to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness and contamination and ultimately providing a longer shelf life once these items reach the store.

Most of what we consume needs to travel from point A to point B (and sometimes points C and D). The delicate dance of getting it where it needs to go, when it needs to get there and under the perfect conditions, is nothing short of a logistical ballet — one that needs to be carefully choreographed in order to get it right. 


“It’s all about process, procedure and reliability,” says Tom Scollard, Vice President of Dedicated Contract Carriage for Penske Logistics. “Leveraging the right level of technology is key to creating efficiencies.”

When you have reliable transportation equipment, a checks-and-balances procedure and a firm process in place, your goal of getting your product where it needs to go – safely, on time and in the least costly manner possible – is definitely within reach.


In order to improve the ever-increasing demand for freshness, some companies create separate supply chains and pull highly perishable items out of traditional distribution channels and put them in more rapid replenishment distribution channels. For example, items that people grab for quick lunches and snacks, such as pre-made sandwiches, salads, veggie cups and fruit slices, need to be restocked frequently.

Utilizing smaller refrigerated trucks can speed deliveries and make rapid replenishment more feasible. While traditional grocery items, such as milk and frozen foods, can travel on 53-foot trailers, rapid replenishment items can go on smaller, more agile trucks.

“We can give the customers the fuel efficiency of a smaller truck,” says Scollard, adding, “I think the days of shipping small quantities over long distances frequently in large vehicles are pretty much coming to an end.”


The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 was designed to build food safety measures into processes across the entire consumable supply chain so that food-borne illnesses can be prevented. While this law continues to be rolled out, there are many measures already in place that require compliance regarding the safe transportation of perishables. These include ensuring that the design and maintenance of vehicles and transportation equipment does not cause the food to become contaminated during transport, and taking measures during transportation to prevent food contamination, such as implementing adequate temperature controls and separation of food from non-food items in the same load.


Maintaining the appropriate temperature is the biggest indicator of the longevity of perishables. Even small deviations in temperature for short periods of time can dramatically impact the longevity of a product. The extent to which minor fluctuations affect a product depends on the individual item, e.g., cauliflower is very prone to compromise with just a short, slight temperature fluctuation, but cantaloupe is not as susceptible, with a tolerance range of 25 degrees F.

Similarly, while apples will stay crisp and tasty for up to 240 days, the delicate raspberry is good for only two or three days. So the complex delivery of produce involves time and temperature – and precision in both.


The deterioration of fruits and vegetables themselves generates heat and exacerbates the problem of maintaining a stable temperature. The rate of deterioration is based on the respiration rate of the product. This process of carbon dioxide, water and heat production continues even after the produce is picked. Fruits and vegetables also produce another trigger that causes ripening – ethylene – that leads to increasing rates of respiration and deterioration as the product begins to warm. Each fruit and vegetable generates a level of ethylene, ranging from very low to very high, that is often indirectly proportionate to its ethylene tolerance. Keeping produce cool will slow the production of ethylene, but this delicate balance requires a knowledgeable and skillful carrier.

Chilling between -1 degree C and +5 degrees C helps to improve food safety and reduce the growth of microorganisms. Even within this temperature range, some deterioration still occurs, so the time factor is never out of the equation. And, while strict measures are taken to ensure that temperatures don’t get too warm, there is also a danger of maintaining too cold a temperature. Some physical and biochemical reactions can take place when a product is frozen, so cold temperatures must also be carefully monitored so they don’t get below a certain temperature.


Cold chain integrity is particularly strategic when it comes to meat, as both temperature and moisture affect the growth of bacteria and microorganisms. A proper temperature and humidity level can lengthen the shelf life of meat by about 25, days as compared to traditional approaches.


In addition to temperature, cargo placement within the refrigerated unit (trailer or van) is also critical because it can either enhance or impede the flow of air through the unit, contributing to product longevity or deterioration. Transportation companies need to consider variability in temperature throughout the refrigerated unit as well as the temperature outside of the unit. The reason many reefers are painted white is to help reflect the incident solar rays that, if not reflected, can dramatically increase the temperature inside.

Food is usually transported in multi-stop perishable deliveries, making the task of maintaining constant and even temperature among the load and throughout the trip a challenging one. Third-party logistics food providers use sequencing, route optimization and stop planning to minimize miles. Food carriers also need to execute safe, reliable food delivery within a closely managed environment, a narrow budget and a strict parameter of time.

“With emphasis on freshness, you want to be serving your stores as often as you can,” says Scollard. “Building efficient routes with more stops is the name of the game.”


The need to monitor and protect perishables has resulted in technologies that are becoming more and more sophisticated. The continuing evolution of data loggers, Timestrips® and RFIDs is critical to providing important data regarding the temperature, humidity, and in some cases, the real-time experience that the product is exposed to.


Real-time tracking using GPS technology provides accurate temperature monitoring. The use of active monitoring technology adds the component of adjusting temperature if there is a fluctuation, while passive monitoring devices provide a full report at the end of the trip. Some bar code inventory tracking systems can pinpoint perishables down to the item level, and RFID devices have become so nimble that they can be embedded into pallets or even into individual items.


Much of what keeps food safe and fresh in transit is related to specifications in the truck that hauls it. Properly insulated containers go a long way to maintain proper temperatures, as does choosing the right reefer for the job. Strategic use of bulkheads, chutes and venting ensure the proper flow of air throughout the trailer, and all of the afore mentioned features are concomitant on using quality equipment, such as emissions-compliant trailers for optimum fuel- and cost-efficiency.

To further improve deliveries, logistics providers utilize geo-fencing technology that allows a truck’s on-board computer to send an email alert to a store when the driver is within a certain range to let the store prepare for the delivery.


Highly developed technology and equipment still depend on people to effectively utilize and navigate it. Successful human interactions include the committed training of personnel and drivers, reliable communication between delivery and receiving personnel, a firm grasp of proper loading techniques, and the ability of shippers, drivers, warehouse workers and grocery store staff to use the available technology to its fullest capacity.


There’s no doubt that consumers will continue to demand fresher offerings and more grab-and-go options, and that grocers and foodservice providers, in turn, will require greater flexibility and service levels from their transportation providers. In an industry that’s predicted to grow at an estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate of 14.39 percent through 2019, according to the report, Cold Chain Logistics Market in North America 2015 - 2019 – the growth and evolution of monitoring technology will continue to pick up momentum in the foreseeable future. And the need for reliable, technology-forward transportation of perishables will become that much more critical.


Consistently delivering a great customer experience, along with fresh, temperature-controlled groceries, is an enormous task for any food and beverage distributor. When you need a reliable logistics and supply chain partner to help plan your daily operations, trust the experts at Penske. We have the experience, industry know-how and reliability to provide the right mix of deliverables, tailored to your operations, production levels and market demands.


Our approach is simple. We make it a priority to understand your supply chain needs and meet those needs by delivering your products fresh and on time. Our routing tools and industry knowledge allow us to engineer distribution networks that exceed our customers’ expectations. By helping to reduce miles and time, you get the benefit of delivering a fresher product, and, in turn, creating an extraordinary customer experience. 

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