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Connected Strategies Drive Needed Cold Chain Visibility

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning,

Cargo Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

Over the last decade, connected technologies have transformed the ways in which food cold chain operators preserve food safety and quality. By utilizing monitoring devices connected via the internet of things (IoT), cold chain stakeholders have much greater visibility into their supply chains — and control of myriad factors impacting freshness, safety and quality. Today, with the acceleration of e-commerce fulfillment models, these tools and technologies are even more critical. I recently participated in an article from The Packer, which discussed the importance of cold chain connectivity in today’s challenging retail business climate.

When you consider the international sourcing of fresh produce, overseas shipments can last from two to four weeks, often involving 20–30 steps to travel from farms to consumers. With today’s IoT-enabled monitoring and tracking infrastructures, cold chain stakeholders have the potential for much-improved visibility into each step of this journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Connected devices give operators the ability to monitor, control and track a variety of determining conditions, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting and much more.
Impacts of e-commerce acceleration
While the growth of the e-commerce grocery business began well before 2020, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this trend dramatically. In particular, click-and-collect business models have introduced new refrigeration requirements; but many of the walk-in cold storage lockers and reach-in coolers installed for these purposes were undersized for pandemic-driven spikes in volumes. What’s more, many of these coolers were not designed for high volumes of traffic, and frequent opening and closing of doors cause infiltration of warmer, humid air.
Simply put, retailers need new refrigeration strategies to manage the high volume of orders, maintain precise temperatures, and keep up with today’s demand. But it’s critically important to seize this opportunity and provide service levels that keep consumers coming back — especially considering studies show half of customers will stop shopping online with a retailer if they are not happy with the service.
To help address these challenges, Emerson recently launched the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series. This reliable and robust unit provides refrigeration for medium-temperature, walk-in coolers, such as those used by supermarkets making the transition to e-commerce business models. In addition, its wide applicability makes it ideal for display cases and food preparation areas that are commonly found in convenience stores, small-format stores and restaurants.
Making the cellular network transition
The ongoing evolution of wireless networks is impacting the connected infrastructures and devices utilized by cold chain technology providers. Currently, there are 4.5 million connected pieces of equipment monitored globally by Emerson’s Retail Solutions business. And in many regions, the mobile device industry is phasing out the use of 2G and 3G networks in favor of newer technologies such as 5G. As a result, any legacy real-time tracking device that relies on 2G and 3G networks to transmit data may experience brownouts in coverage.
This is why Emerson is currently launching new devices that utilize emerging technologies such as Category M, or “Cat-M” and Narrow Band internet of things, or “NB-IoT” — both of which are coming online as cellular providers introduce 4G and 5G networks. In fact, we recently launched our next-generation 4G/Cat-M real-time trackers at the Fruit Logistica trade show in Berlin. These new devices are designed to bridge the gap between 2G and these emerging technologies to ensure uninterrupted tracking and monitoring.
Key infrastructure upgrades
As part of our connected infrastructure upgrades, we have also recently introduced Oversight 2, a cloud-based online portal that serves as a real-time resource for monitoring in-transit shipment information. Oversight 2 provides stakeholders with key data points that may impact the quality of perishable cargo, such as temperature, location and other indicators.
For the retail store environment, Emerson’s ProAct™ Connect+ Enterprise Management Software provides near real-time access to critical information to help retailers immediately track, triage and respond to issues across their multi-site network and better meet food quality and safety expectations.

Strengthening the Cold Chain With Connected Technologies

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Maintaining food quality and safety is a primary challenge facing retailers who rely on the global cold chain to fulfill the growing demand for fresh food offerings. New technologies are emerging to provide improved visibility and traceability of perishable items, help stakeholders communicate, and ensure adherence to food safety best practices and/or regulatory requirements. I recently contributed to an article by Progressive Grocer which speaks to the importance of leveraging these technologies to achieve those goals and maintain an unbroken cold chain.

With the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent announcement of its New Era of Food Safety initiative, the technology that provides traceability and other key services is becoming more important than ever. This rapidly advancing technological toolset includes internet of things (IoT) condition sensors, temperature-sensitive flexible barcodes and blockchain. Combined, these tools are helping growers, shippers and retailers help ensure the freshest and safest possible product for consumers.

As I stated in the article: “This is especially critical with the global demand for year-round access to perishable products. Achieving this feat can require fresh produce to be transported by land, sea and air, encompassing the point of harvest, processing, cold storage and distribution — all before it ever begins the last-mile delivery to a store or restaurant.” In fact, a perishable shipment may be subject to as many as 20 to 30 individual steps and multiple changes of ownership before it reaches its destination.

Gaining visibility with IoT monitoring and tracking infrastructures

To better manage the sheer complexity of this cold chain journey, stakeholders are leveraging connected IoT monitoring technologies and tracking infrastructures. Operators now have better potential visibility into each step of food’s journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. These tools — such as Emerson’s GO Real-Time Trackers and GO Loggers combined with our cloud-based Oversight online software portal — are giving stakeholders at each point the abilities to monitor and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food quality, including: temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, lighting and much more.

As I pointed out in the article, one of the key values of this technology is the ability to receive email or text notifications in real time when an in-transit shipment falls out of the ideal temperature range: “This allows suppliers to correct the issue promptly with the carrier or even reroute the shipment to a nearby location and preserve that perishable cargo.” Retailers and growers can also track these in-transit shipments to monitor delivery timelines and ensure that carriers are following proper shipping routes. Retailers rely on these devices to help them validate produce quality on receipt and monitor all their suppliers to ensure they’re meeting the freshness standards that their customers demand.

With Emerson’s connected monitoring and tracking infrastructure, data from our GO Real-Time Trackers and GO Loggers is pushed to the cloud and presented in Oversight, giving our customers both visibility and analysis of critical cold chain information with which to make better supply chain decisions.

End-to-end cold chain certainty

Of course, Emerson also provides the critical refrigeration components, controls and compressors to help retailers ensure optimal refrigeration temperatures in their refrigerated cases, walk-in coolers and freezers. Our advanced facility and asset monitoring systems provide real-time access to the critical information that retailers need to track, triage and quickly respond to issues that could potentially impact food safety and quality. What’s more, our automated temperature monitoring and recording devices help operators eliminate the need for time-consuming manual documentation — giving them the abilities to access on-demand reporting as needed for food safety compliance purposes and provide historical cold chain data.

 

Advances Continue in Cold Chain Tracking Technologies

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery, “Advances in cold chain technology for snack and bakery warehousing and transport.” There have been significant technological advances in recent years to enable better temperature and condition monitoring, including key offerings from Emerson. Read the full article here.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pressed for increased monitoring and documentation of refrigerator and freezer temperatures at every point along the cold chain to detect when cold storage temperatures fall out of the transported food’s safe range. Heightened awareness of foodborne illness as a serious health problem has driven advanced monitoring systems that trigger alarms and notify personnel should temperature conditions deteriorate.

However, these advanced systems are largely the domain of processing plants, warehouses and supermarkets, fixed locations where continuous monitoring and wireless data collection and processing are incorporated into an IT infrastructure — but they’re quickly earning industry-wide adoption.

When a food shipment is transferred to a truck, train or ship, accessing and documenting its temperature data becomes problematic and limited. Historically, food transport has been the weakest link in cold chain tracking. That’s why it’s become increasingly important to track temperature data on frozen and refrigerated food in transit to ensure food security and provide operators with end-to-end documentation.

This is where the latest advances in cold chain technology come in: the development of monitoring systems that include data loggers, i.e., electronic devices that communicate with sensors to collect data over time. When fully automated, they can eliminate the errors of manual tracking and recording information during transit, transmitting and storing continuous temperature data in real time.

Emerson Cargo Solutions is one of several companies working to fill data gaps during transit, with a suite of cellular monitors and loggers — GO Real-Time Trackers — which track and log the status of perishable products shipped across the entire cold chain, all in real time. Using cellular technology and the processing capabilities of the IoT, GO Real-Time Trackers can continuously transmit and log temperature and location data and send alerts from the loading dock to the shelf.

GO Real-Time Trackers are affordable, easy to use, and small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, making them particularly functional for tracking and logging goods in transit. Yet they also provide global visibility to shipments while transmitting temperature data to end users’ systems via the cloud and the IoT.

To use a GO Real-Time Tracker, a worker simply pulls a tab to start the device, places it in a container or trailer, and inputs its serial number into Emerson’s Oversight Exchange Data Integration app. From there, end users have access to comprehensive and automated monitoring. Logging data is encrypted for security and transmitted cellularly to the cloud and IoT for real-time processing and analysis. With either a smartphone or tablet, a user can check shipment status and generate documentation on the go. And the real-time data and documentation that GO Real-Time Trackers are capable of collecting are extensive:

  • Maps, graphs and charts of shipments with location and temperature details
  • Shipment summary reports using GO Real-Time Tracker serial numbers
  • Current product temperatures, temperature ranges and mean kinetic temperatures
  • Trip name, current trip status, location and duration
  • Total time out of cell range, above range and below range
  • Temperature graphs
  • Alarm events

End-to-end, real-time cold chain temperature monitoring and logging with GO Real-Time Trackers provide a higher level of overall security. Users can identify and fix previously unknown problem points in the cold chain. IoT connectivity and cellular communication make it possible for apps to monitor temperatures at set parameters throughout transport. And GO Real-Time Tracker documentation provides transparency, generating comprehensive reporting to comply with regulatory agency requirements for food safety.

Protecting Food on the Move

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

The cold chain in perishable food distribution is a complex and delicate thing. Just one hour out of optimum temperature range can have significant impact on a product’s shelf life. More serious cold chain lapses can pose waste, food safety and environmental issues, causing businesses and entire industries financial and reputational harm. At the E360 Forum in Houston last fall, I shared common cold chain pitfalls, real-world case studies and best practices for successfully navigating this complicated process. Read more below, then view the full E360 Forum presentation.

Those blueberries on your cereal? They’re from Chili. That orange? South Africa. Today’s food travels incredible distances to get to you. And behind your grilled salmon supper, there’s a dizzying array of complex cold chain management and monitoring that needs to happen to get it to your table — safe and tasty.

Industry experts say that from farm (or ocean) to your fork, there can be as many as 15–20 transfer points (hand-offs) in the cold chain process, encompassing trucks, containers and even planes. Each stop increases the risk of food safety incidences, spoilage and lost profits.

What’s at stake when the cold chain breaks?

Food and resource waste

One of the more frustrating things to me is the amount of time, money and resources spent producing food and getting it to where it needs to go — only to have it spoil by the time it gets to the point of sale. Think of all the work, expenses, fuel and greenhouse gas emissions it requires to get product from California to the East Coast. When there’s a break in the cold chain, all of that time, effort and money could potentially be lost.

According to Food Foolish by John Mandyck and Eric Schultz, the amount of food waste in the supply and distribution of food is staggering. They estimate that:

  • 1 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted each year
  • One-third of food produced each year is never eaten
  • 800 million people in the world are chronically hungry

In addition, food waste has a devastating impact on the environment in terms of water waste and the creation of greenhouse gases. Mandyck and Schultz go on to say: “If food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S.”

Financial impacts

I don’t need to tell you there’s big money in each trailer transporting food commodities across the country and around the world. If there’s a break in the cold chain, the financial impacts can be painful. Check out the food value estimate per truckload:

  • Beef — $150,000 to $250,000
  • Poultry — $60,000 to $225,000
  • Pork — $80,000
  • Strawberries — $20,000
  • Bananas — $16,000

Food safety and public health

According to the CDC, about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. Not all issues are directly attributable to compromised cold chain processes. But with elevated temperatures, a very small situation can grow exponentially in a very short time. By properly managing temperature, you can mitigate and isolate a potential food incident before it can spread.

Conquering the cold chain

We know what can go wrong when temperatures aren’t right. But how can broken links in the cold chain be prevented? To answer that, here are a few best practices for facilitating good temperatures in transit.

  • Start with appropriate pre-cooling processes. Remove field heat from product as soon as possible, pre-cool containers, and “pulp” or take product temperature to ensure it’s at the correct setpoint.
  • Follow proper loading practices for optimal air circulation.
  • Establish and communicate proper transport temperatures; pay attention to mixed loads.
  • Employ independent temperature-monitoring devices and proper placement procedures.
  • Check temperature history and place immediately into cold storage at the distribution center.

Transport from the distribution center to the retailer needs to be closely monitored as well. In fact, this is one of the areas where we see the most breakdowns: the transfer at the final point of sale. Deliveries typically come in very late and perishables are not put into cold storage quick enough.

Baked bananas and blockchain

One of our customers recently shared a story about a load of bananas they received. The retailer was using one of our real-time monitoring devices and knew before the containers were unloaded that bananas had basically cooked in transit. Armed with real-time temperature data, they declined the shipment, saving $28,000 on two loads — loads they may have previously accepted.

Digital time and temperature loggers, real-time trackers with proactive alerts have been a part of perishable loads in transit for years. As illustrated by the story above, they have been instrumental in identifying temperature flux and allow retailers and suppliers to be more preventive and proactive.

Emerson is leading exciting developments in analytics based on aggregated data from these devices. Vast amounts of in-transit time, location and temperature intelligence are now stored in the cloud — and can be tapped for deeper cold chain insights on best routes, carriers, shipping lanes and suppliers.

Another technology getting a lot of industry buzz is blockchain. (It’s not just for cryptocurrency.) Blockchain offers an incredibly secure platform to share deep and detailed data across all the supply chain players. It lets disparate, previously siloed, entities share common, unalterable data on a common framework. We’re currently working with IBM to create food freshness applications and shelf-life predictors that could be shared across the blockchain platform. And that’s only the beginning.

To hear more best practices, cold chain success stories and even a few cautionary tales, be sure to view the full E360 Forum presentation here.

 

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