In the last decade, cold chain logistics have become more complex than ever. Regulatory requirements are more difficult to satisfy, and the demand for food is increasing rapidly. It is imperative for decision-makers to follow best practices to decrease loss, as well as scale operations based on current and increasing demand.
Consumers have also become increasingly picky about the food they consume, preferring to know of its origin. They are also willing to pay more for the “farm-to-table” approach instead of frozen produce.
As a logistics provider, how do you grow along with the demand, minimize risk, and satisfy logistic requirements?
Below are some of the best practices we at Post Harvest recommend to maximise and run a successful supply chain.
9 cold chain practices you should be doing now
1. Proper shipment preparations
2. Ensuring the “cold” in the cold chain
3. The correct choice of packaging
4. Maintaining SOP’s globally
5. Smarter cost management
6. Investing in technology
7. Building skilled teams
8. Continuous compliance
9. Leveraging artificial intelligence
1) Proper Shipment Preparation
Before you begin sending your products through your supply chain, it is imperative to understand the chemical and biological characteristics as well as the shelf life of your products. Most are in a temperature-sensitive range that they require for freshness.
The majority of cold chain equipment has been designed to maintain temperatures at specific levels and does not shift the shipment to the required temperature. Cooling systems must be employed, to ensure that temperatures are maintained and monitored along-side the produce being shipped. This helps with total quality management across the cold chain.
A fact well known, fresh fruit and vegetables can be finicky. One small slip and your produce can begin to omit ethylene, which in turn can begin to affect and spoil the other produce within its container, which results in further food loss. We recommend that for optimal post-harvest handling, all cool rooms should have temperature readings, humidity, CO2, and ethylene levels monitored as well.
It is also important that the equipment that is being transported inside the supply chain be precooled as well as steam cleaned before the next shipment. This helps avoid additional contamination and spoiled produce.
2) Ensuring the ‘Cold’ in the Cold Chain
In recent years, cold chain tech has been offering different temperature standards that cater to a large wide variety of products and requests. From cryogenic (-135 degrees C), to even various controlled room temperatures (CRT’s) that range from deep-frozen to chilled. It is important as cold chain operators to stay within the recommended range across each stage of the supply chain and monitor any sudden changes.
Always consider weather predictions and possible changes during the journey and at the destination. We recommend reefers, with their own power supplies, that can handle outside changes in temperature and adjust accordingly.
Atmospheric control is also imperative for the ripening of fruits during transit. Along with our post-harvest sensory units, you can also wrap shipments in polyethylene bags that prevent ethylene from spreading and affecting other produce.
3) The correct choice of packaging
There are two main types of packaging, active and passive. Active packing involves thermostatic control and an energy source, it also has monitoring mechanisms such as a GPS.
Passive, however, involves more conventional packages that use dry ice, ice, or water that are placed to keep produce at the required temperatures.
Both shipments are vulnerable to changes in the atmosphere, especially when there are disruptions and delays in the supply chain and transport.
You must always consider both the cost and risks of both types and ask questions such as- how much risk can you actually take on? Apart from monetary risk, there is also loss of brand value and market share, should products quality be affected at delivery.
4) Maintaining SOP’s Globally
It is important to have well-strategised processes and procedures when transporting high-value goods globally.
Begin with basic must have processes, such as in-transit / storage requirements and risk factors that are monitored across the supply chain.
Examples of this include; what to do when a container breaks or a product starts leaking, or if there is a flight delay. What are your Standard Operating Procedures (or SOP’s) that need to be standardised across these areas of risk? Don’t be afraid to collaborate with your client, as for the higher the risk, the more collaboration we recommend.
5) Smarter Cost Management
Understanding total costs is a great way to understand risks and plan for them. Direct, indirect and hidden costs should all be considered. Look at TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), instead of only managing costs at a purchase price basis.
TCO’s will allow you to incorporate direct and indirect or unexpected costs such as penalties, loss of business or market share. These are real risks that create real costs if your cold chain fails.
In summary, 3PL’s (Third-party Logistics) need to economise all aspects of the cold chain. When they don’t include TCO, they put theirs and their client’s businesses at risk.
6) Investing in Technology
It’s a well-known fact that half of all fresh produce worldwide ends up wasted. A large part of this happens across the supply chain, and it is our social responsibility working in the fresh produce industry to help reduce these losses.
To avoid this, it is incredibly important to make sure that specific temperatures are set and maintained during transportation.
Investing in environmental sensors that can monitor specifics such as temperature, humidity, and ethylene levels is not only recommended but critical. Invest in tech such as the Post Harvest sensor that can monitor in real-time, and send alerts to those monitoring it.
The best fleet management systems on the market not only have this tech, but also use GPS to monitor location, and atmospheric changes. If there are breakdowns, power outages, or open doors, these management systems can correct the issue before it begins to impact the product itself.
7) Building Skilled Teams
You can invest in the best technology on the market, but if you don’t have the right people and teams operating, it’s safe to say you won’t be too successful. Your teams make the supply chain run, your business is only as successful as they are. Make sure they have adequate knowledge of good distribution practices in the areas they work in. You can find many free online courses via Postharvest Learning.
Having ongoing team training, and creating niche teams that specialise across all areas of your supply chain is a major key in your success as a logistics company.
8) Continuous Compliance
When the FDA introduced the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), they started becoming more proactive with enforcing food safety as well as preventing contamination. Supply chains and logistic companies need to partner along and set goals on having a higher environmental impact.
Your 3PL’s should aim to meet this challenge and become experts in compliance. Procedures such as monitoring and regularly logging temperature and humidity levels across all shipments, as well as being able to hold all the data to report on later.
This will allow your supply chain to remain integrous with all regulatory authorities and will build a better supplier relationship with your clients and customers. If there are any issues, your data and recordings can be investigated into the source of the issue.
9) Leveraging Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence can be integrated into your cold chain technology and help better manage operations. It can help your supply chain managers to identify potential risks and trends, and create pathways in which to reduce them. Supply chain leaders are investing in this data to lead the way into more streamlined processes.
Business owners and executive leadership should evaluate the cost and investment into having an AI-led supply chain, and restructure their processes accordingly with a trusted provider.
These are the 9 most recommended cold chain practices that every logistics company should be implementing. For more content like this, feel free to check out our blog here, or take free online courses to learn more today.