April 16, 2019

Leveraging Cold Chain Visibility to Extend Shelf Life and Reduces Loss

Written by Garret Weigel | Supply Chain

Every year there is a steady flow of perishable goods into the United States, with imports fluctuating with the seasons. For example, about 85% of all cut flowers come into the United States through the “Gateway to the Americas,” Miami International Airport. On average, seven flights per day transport cut flowers, mainly originating from Latin America. During peak seasons, the number of flights rises to around 35 flights per day. This requires a supply chain network to handle the surge of imports, capitalize on the demand, and avoid loss due to spoilage or an expired shelf life.


The Growing Influx of Perishable Commodities

Behind such an effort is a tremendous logistical system that supports the cold chain required to move these goods. Supply chain monitoring and logistics must work in unison to ensure facilities are available to provide the temperature control required of perishable items, customs inspections take place to ensure full compliance of the law, adequate fumigation is in place, and an accurate distribution among the various domestic carriers can transport them to their many destinations around the country.


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What we see with cut flowers illustrates the many temperature-controlled commodities that are transported each year. Indeed, they all risk loss from reduced shelf life and spoilage due to weaknesses in the supply chain, mostly from inadequate temperature control. However, the right temperature-monitoring and control technology can extend their shelf life and ultimately reduce loss.


The Risk of Perishables

About a third of all global fresh fruits and vegetables are discarded each year because their quality has dropped to below acceptable levels, according to researcher Cold Data. This totals more than $35 billion a year. They blame much of the food loss to "ineffective cold chain processes and management,” and warn that “as spoilage becomes a big threat to safety and profitability, companies are beginning to embrace new technologies and alternative methods."


In addition, consider the growing market for the many nations that rely on pharmaceuticals manufactured elsewhere and the temperature-controlled environments they require. Pharmaceuticals, along with fresh fruits, vegetables, and other temperature-controlled commodities such as cut flowers, rely on the best practices of their supply chains.


Managing a temperature-controlled supply chain requires technology to remotely monitor temperature and alert stakeholders to failing equipment. Remote monitoring will drastically reduce loss and ultimately extend shelf life through real-time alerting and proactive management of temperature excursions. Without the appropriate technology and an established infrastructure of visibility and control provided by IoT, it's nearly impossible to know the state of any cargo in any place at any time. What’s more, it's also difficult to predict when a perishable commodity is about to go bad.


For example, a red tomato may appear to be in fine shape and well on its way to market, when suddenly it loses color and its quality degrades. It must then be discarded and will never make it to market. This is one of the challenges for transporters and shippers that deal in cold chain commodities. They need adequate solutions, including technology that enables them to not only monitor their cargo, but also to predict the shelf life in order to reduce loss.


A Growing Demand for Perishables

Moving the cold chain and transporting perishable goods is a formidable challenge as the overall demand for these items seems to be increasing. Driven mostly by the growing dependence on fresh fruits and vegetables from an increasingly health-conscious society, produce and other fresh commodities are making their way from nations that have the agricultural infrastructure and the climate to produce them. In the past, such commodities just weren't available at certain times of the year. Now, due to a surge in demand, everything seems to be available all the time. Consumers in United States can go into a grocery store and purchase blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and many other types of produce during any season.


Supply chain professionals and leaders have a heightened awareness of the need to provide temperature-controlled conditions as government oversight and regulatory requirements have changed. The FDA has imposed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) that imposes new food safety rules aimed at preventing contamination during transportation.


Such requirements mandate that those involved in moving human and animal food by motor or rail vehicle must follow recognized best safety practices as well as sanitary transportation. This includes properly refrigerating food by maintaining acceptable temperature standards. Shippers are now required to verify that transportation units are at a certain temperature prior to their loading and that temperatures are tracked during transit. In addition, they must capture, log, and share data related to temperature monitoring and provide adequate documentation and compliance.


For carriers, shippers, warehouse operators, and other supply-chain professionals, a proactive embrace of telematics and other technologies that support temperature-controlled visibility and control is necessary for regulatory compliance, to extend the shelf life of commodities, and to make the many perishable goods survive in a global economy that demands them.


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Topics: Supply Chain

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