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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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