With globalization, increase in spending power, and changes in dietary preferences, our reliance on cold chain is ever growing. However, the food industry is not the only one that is reliant on cold chains. The pharmaceutical industry also relies heavily on controlled and uncompromised transfer of shipments. About 10% of medical drugs (source: transportgeography.org) are temperature sensitive and should shipments experience any unanticipated exposure to variant temperature levels, they run the risk of becoming ineffective or even harmful to patients.
Rules and regulation for temperature management
Different products require the maintenance of different temperature levels to ensure their integrity throughout the transport chain. The industry has responded with the setting of temperature standards that accommodate the majority of products. For example “banana” (13 °C), “chill” (2 °C), “frozen” (-18 °C) and “deep-frozen” (-29 °C), each related to specific product groups. Staying within the temperature range is vital to the integrity of a shipment along the supply chain to prevent potential damages and ensure optimal shelf life of the products.
Companies within the European Union also have to adhere to various legal regulations regarding food requiring refrigeration. For example, Chapter II of Annex 5 to the Ordinance on Hygiene Requirements for the Production, Treatment and Placing on the Market of Certain Foodstuffs of Animal Origin (Animal Food Hygiene Ordinance – Tier-LMHV) sets a maximum core temperature of +2 °C for meat preparations that are not delivered to the consumer at the place of production. On the other hand, for frozen food at § 2 (4) of the Ordinance on Frozen Foods (TLMV) requires a permanent storage temperature of -18 °C. According to No. 1 of the same paragraph, food stuffs may be exposed to a short-term fluctuation of a maximum of 3 °C upwards during shipment.
Challenges faced by cold chain and logistics industry
Moving a shipment across the cold chain without suffering any setbacks or temperature anomalies requires the establishment of a comprehensive logistical process to maintain the shipment integrity. Factors such as duration of transit, the size of the shipment and the ambient or outside temperatures experienced are important in deciding what type of packaging is required and the related level of energy consumption. It is also important to first assess the products’ characteristics and prepare the shipment for the desired temperature. Cold chain devices are commonly designed to keep the temperature constant, but not to bring a shipment to this temperature, so they would be unable to perform adequately if a shipment is not prepared and conditioned.
Furthermore, key considerations should be made for important processes, such as the final transfer of the shipment into cold storage facilities as there is a high potential for a breach of integrity and damages to fragile goods such as produce. Custom procedures may also prove to be a challenge, as cold chain products tend to be time-sensitive and are more likely to be subjected to inspection than regular freight.
Integrity and quality assurance are equally important, where temperature anomalies must be recorded and made known as accountability and trust play a crucial role in cold chain management. However, studies have shown that cold chain efficiency is often less than ideal, as abuses above or below the optimal product specific temperature range occur frequently and this significantly increases food waste and jeopardizes safety.
Existing temperature tracking solutions
Solutions with wireless technology, notably IoT, are commonly used by shippers to track the condition of their products from end to end. Cutting-edge technologies that are eco-friendly have also entered cold chain food storage facilities. Newer temperature-controlled warehouses, and self-contained refrigeration units offering increased energy efficiency and zero water requirements have slowly made their way to the market.