How is Cold Chain Monitoring Restructuring Produce Production?

The Post Harvest Team   |   March 31, 2021

You may not know it, but you’re directly benefitting from the use of its systems & technology. Every time you go to the grocery store to buy your items, the quality of fresh produce that you purchase is a direct result of how the Cold Chain System handles said produce throughout the “farm-to-fork” process.

We don’t often think about the country of origin for a product we’re purchasing, or how much logistical work goes into placing their fresh produce within your local supermarket, yet we do expect the end product to be fresh and unspoiled. We’re able to buy unblemished products because most of the grocery chains within western society are affiliated with uninterrupted cold chain transportation and storage systems.

So, what is the cold chain? In short, it's an atmosphere controlled supply chain, providing ideal conditions for the transition of fresh produce from the farmers to the retail outlets, but this definition doesn’t quite paint an accurate depiction of what the cold chain system truly is capable of.

The cold chain is comprised of a series of actions & equipment, along with refrigerated warehousing that all contribute towards regulating the ideal growth rates of each unique category of fresh produce product that travels through it. In theory, it's an unbroken transport and cold storage supply chain, where the monitoring of atmospheric compounds is provided to help cater to the needs of sensitive products. Logistical planning is often used to help protect the cold chain integrity of the products in transportation and storage.

The Current Cold Chain Infrastructure

The cold chain infrastructure used today depends on:

  • Logistical provider companies and electronic tracking
  • Refrigeration in all modes of transportation and warehousing
  • Insulated shipping containers 
  • Specialised packaging
  • Temperature data loggers
  • Custody chain documentation and more

All of these current implementations to the cold chain infrastructure are all unique efforts to help reduce food loss from the point of postharvest, through to retailing. These responsive forms of AgTech are helping pave the way for greater levels of provisions reaching more people in need. 

Read on to discover more about how cold chain monitoring is revolutionising fresh produce outgoings, both in quality & quantity, and what these changes mean for all of us.

The Product Loss Problem 

Unfortunately, when it comes to produce loss across the postharvest supply chain, the numbers are staggering. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, on a global scale, over 45% of all fresh produce travelling through the cold chain system is lost on the journey. In light of this astonishing statistic, the world is currently home to over seven billion people in 2020. Within that 7 billion, there are an estimated 925 million people who are currently starving.

The saddest thing about the above statistics is that the amount of annual food loss that is accumulated globally could feed the starving population multiple times over. That’s right, the required food supplies to end world hunger are currently available, however, common cold chain technology and practices employed by the cold chain industry do not accurately record and provide actionable data for industry stakeholders, in order to maximise their outgoings.

One of the solutions to this global problem lies within the advancement of Internet of Things (IoT) AgTech. IoT AgTech is proving to be a strong solution for a humanitarian need by maximising what's possible through cold chain monitoring, transportation, and storage. Agribusiness stakeholders are joining forces and committing to building a less resource wasteful future through IoT AgTech solutions.

Amplification technology is one of the new IoT solutions, providing storage facility employees with actionable data from their highly sensitive atmosphere reading sensors surrounding fresh produce supplies.

If advanced monitoring technology can help suppliers get their products all the way from harvest through to the consumer without spoiling or going to waste, then the world is one step closer to getting usable and viable food products to those who need it most.

Cold Chain Monitoring

The modern problems that occur within current cold chain systems such as shipment breakdowns, delays, human error, theft, overripeness and a host of other issues can all greatly influence and throw off supplier margins & retail stock numbers. The monitoring of the cold chain industry is a necessary implementation in order to both prevent and counteract some of these damaging problems, helping provide increased profitability to growers and suppliers of cold chain products.

Three Areas That Dictate Cold Chain Interactions

Cold Chain monitoring has three definitive areas of interaction. These areas are defined by the following:

Product - Each form of Fresh Produce has its own unique, optimal storage conditions. All requiring specific levels of temperature, humidity, ethylene exposure, and so on.

The Origin and Destination - The closer the final destination is to the product’s original supplier, the easier it is to keep it in an optimal consumption state. The further the product's origin is from its destination, the greater the varied requirements are for detailed logistical strategies.

Distribution - The infrastructure and methods used for a product that requires controlled-atmosphere across both transportation and warehousing facilities.

Supply chain integrity is involved and used in all three of the above monitoring aspects, all of which require the latest and greatest technologies to prevent product deterioration. These technologies need to address product packaging, coatings, atmosphere & bioengineering.

Cold Chain Ongoing Problems 

Today there are a lot of companies in charge of both storing and moving perishables, providing logistics, statistical cold chain monitoring data, inventory updates and a host of other practical services. While the efficiency and scalability of cold chain practices have grown and evolved over time, there is still a largely untreated pain point within the industry.

The ongoing problem that has plagued the agribusiness industry has been and continues to be the prevalent guesswork that goes into storage conditions for fresh produce. While methods have improved over the years and numerous cold chain solutions have been adopted, the underlying theme is that all of these practices and pieces of AgTech come with limitations.

The biggest countermeasure being utilised to fight food spoilage is temperature control, but this is only one thread that can help prolong fresh produce, yet it doesn’t cater towards optimising the quality of ripeness in the fresh produce. The level of Ethylene (a naturally occurring chemical compound that promotes ripening) that accumulates within the proximity of the stored produce is currently being monitored via practices that are limited in viability and have been common use for decades. This results in practices that are regarded as necessary measures yet are inefficient solutions.

Cold Chain Actionable Solution

PostHarvest has observed this industry-wide problem and has undergone extensive research and development in order to build an Environmental Sensor that comes in the form of a wall-mounted unit. PostHarvest’s cold chain optimising solution sits within desired storage facilities and takes regular atmosphere samples, detecting low levels of ethylene gas in amongst other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) within the storage space. This accumulated data is presented back to users in the form of real-time readings and notifications, this helps users to plan and forecast proactive measures to ensure that produce supplies stay fresh and arrive at their destination in their highest quality form.

This environmental sensor technology can provide readings on both climacteric and non-climacteric fresh produce and can help prevent these consumables from going to waste before they even enter the market through the provision of actionable data readings.

The amplification technology, through its highly accurate readings, can also measure and forecast optimal delivery times for products, maximise outgoings, and minimise resource waste, while at the same time being the most cost-efficient method for monitoring ultra-sensitive produce.

The marriage between fresh produce and the cold chain system is a complex and delicate union. If stakeholders within cold chain operations can do away with old number game tactics and look to adopt Parts Per Billion (PPB) sensor technology solutions like PostHarvest’s Environmental Sensor, then food losses could see a global reduction of up to 40%!

If you have any further questions around cold chain systems, we have answers. Reach out to us to learn more.


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