February 20, 2020

Carefully Moving the Cold Chain: Best Practices With Managing Refrigerated Cargo

Written by Garret Weigel | Pharmacy Safety, Food Safety, FSMA, Supply Chain

Refrigerated and temperature-controlled cargo is becoming more popular as more commodities require specific climate conditions for transport. More and more goods are traveling around the globe, and often these commodities have a higher value because of their perishable characteristics. This includes produce and other food perishables as well as pharmaceuticals and medicinal products that must be kept in a temperature-controlled environment.

 

For fleet managers and transportation managers, this poses some new challenges, especially in risk management. Because any failure to maintain temperature or other required climate characteristics can result in damage or cargo loss, more is at stake. Therefore, careful temperature management practices must be ensured in order to prevent such losses.

 

Embracing Telematics

For starters, any best practice in the management of refrigerated cargo transport begins with an emphasis on the incorporation of telematics. Telematics allow shippers, owners, and carriers to remotely monitor their cargo using sensors. These sensors are installed on the transportation assets themselves. Such assets include shipping containers and trailers as well cargo holds and refrigerated rail cars. In many cases, these sensors transmit data back through the cloud to a remotely monitored platform that can be observed in real-time, which helps avoid problems before they occur.

 

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The FDA's new Food Safety Modernization Act, requires "chain of custody" monitoring and documentation for shippers of refrigerated cargo. Telematics greatly aid in helping shippers and carriers stay compliant with such requirements. For commodities such as pharmaceuticals, temperature plays an ever-important role. If the temperatures are not precisely maintained and the cargo is exposed to temperatures outside of acceptable ranges, it could damage the integrity of the pharmaceutical product itself, rendering it useless. Because pharmaceuticals pose many potential safety risks to human life, their transport is more highly regulated than other commodities. Therefore telematics play a crucial role in monitoring temperature and climate conditions required to keep the pharmaceuticals intact.

 

Understanding Temperature Requirements for Refrigerated Cargo

The FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act also imposes specific temperature requirements for refrigerated cargo. In general, frozen food must be transported with an air temperature of approximately 0° F and the internal product temperature should not exceed 10° F. A transportation vehicle must be cooled ahead of time to achieve an air temperature of 20° F or lower before it can be loaded. Frozen food should not be placed into the transportation container if the ambient air temperatures are above a certain level.

 

Shippers may have additional mandates of their own that are even more stringent. For a more comprehensive guide, consult the FDA itself; read their new regulations and ensure that your cargo is in compliance with all regulations.

 

Understanding Other Requirements

It's difficult to meet every single requirement in managing a robust and effective refrigerated cargo transportation program. There are many regulations and requirements due to the fragile and delicate nature of the commodities being transported. But a smart approach is to ensure that all courses of action are in full compliance with regulatory bodies and that any spoilage or damage of the cargo due to temperature variations is prevented and accounted for. This is increasingly important as the supply chain becomes more sophisticated and transports a greater volume of products, cargo, and commodities, many of which are more delicate than in the past.

 

This entire effort will be assisted by a growing inclusion of digitization in supply chains, as transporters invest in increasingly better technologies to manage the transport of sensitive cargoes.

 

According to the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, transporting refrigerated cargo is part of new supply chain management, or as they call it, Supply Chain 4.0. As they describe it, 

 

"Supply Chain 4.0 [is] the application of the Internet of Things, the use of advanced robotics, and the application of advanced analytics of big data in supply chain management: place sensors in everything, create networks everywhere, automate anything, and analyze everything to significantly improve performance and customer satisfaction."

 

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