The logistics supply chain is comprised of multiple sub-domains of specialty – each of which requires unique equipment and procedures. One of the most complex is the cold supply chain. The cold supply chain transports perishables across the globe, ensuring to keep them in a controlled temperature environment to reduce the spread of contamination, bacteria, and to keep the commodities safe. There are a few unique attributes that the cold supply chain possess that makes it different from the traditional supply chain.
Noted below are five elements that the cold supply chain requires to ensure safe and efficient delivery of temperature-sensitive products.
To transport perishables, it’s critical to maintain a consistent temperature. Whether it’s produce or frozen foods, this is accomplished throughout the cold supply chain with the use of refrigerated or frozen containers. The “reefer” as it’s commonly known, is a customized trailer that is made with onboard equipment that refrigerates and maintains a temperature that is specific to the product being shipped. While they are similar in appearance, there are several interesting specifics about the reefer that you may not be aware.
• A refrigerated container costs about five times more to build than a dry container.
• A refrigerated or frozen container is designed to maintain the desired temperature throughout transit. Freight needs to be at the desired temperature prior to being loaded for food safety.
• Reefers require electric power to keep the unit operational. To accomplish this, reefer trailers must keep an onboard generator running constantly. This is often the greatest hurdle in maintaining the cold supply chain.
The process of shipping freight is rather straightforward – plan, load, ship, and deliver. With refrigerated or frozen products, however, there are several phases within each step that are enhanced. Here are a few specific examples:
• Planning: There are several factors that need to be considered when planning to move cold freight including the point of origin, the destination, and the equipment needed to ensure safe and proper handling of cold product. Any shipper and carrier must spend time planning and preparing their shipments to comply with food safety standards, reduce spoilage, and ensure timely delivery.
• Loading: Carriers within the cold supply chain must have the capacity to correctly store and load frozen or perishable freight. Beyond the container, they must have the right storage facilities to keep refrigerated freight protected prior to loading. A carrier must also plan the loading to reduce standing time outside of the desired temperature range.
• Shipping: The cold supply chain is more time-sensitive than shipping dry goods. Carriers must move freight from origin to destination efficiently to ensure on-time deliveries.
While all cargo logistics requires documentation, the cold supply chain amplifies this by multiple factors. The FDA has multiple regulations as listed in their Food Safety Modernization Act that provides carriers and shippers with standards needed to ensure proper food safety. One of the most important details of cold supply chain shipping is the extra documentation and reporting needed. There are several items that need to be recorded in the cold supply chain that dry goods shipping does not require including temperature readings. DOT and FDA standards require carriers to maintain logs for recording temperatures of reefer and frozen units on an hourly basis. If a carrier is pulled over and this log is not accurately maintained, they risk multiple fines and even possible suspension of commercial shipping licenses.
As we noted above, to ship perishable commodities, enhanced controls are required to reduce the potential for contamination. However, these controls are vital, due to the cold supply chains impact on public health. There are two specific reasons why the cold supply chain impacts this area:
• Food products need to be kept outside of “the danger zone” (which is a food safety term that describes the desired temperature for perishables to reduce the spread of fungus, bacteria, and other microbial growth. The cold supply chain keeps perishable items safe during transport.
• Medical goods: Most people assume that the only items involved in the cold supply chain are food. However, medical goods like insulin for diabetics, vaccines, and antibiotics are often temperature controlled.
When the cold supply chain is effective, it helps to protect these vital commodities to keep us healthy.
The cold supply chain is expensive to maintain. As we noted above, the average price to build a ‘reefer’ unit is nearly five times that of a traditional, dry goods cargo container. The main reason for this is the cost of refrigeration and generator units. However, these items also require constant maintenance to stay in operational shape. This is one of the major reasons why the cost of cold supply chain shipments is more expensive than dry good shipments.