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Cold Chain Monitoring Technology: A Solution to Food Waste

  • March 09, 2021
  • Sopa Soun
  • Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Apples ready to be loaded onto truck Cold chain visibility solutions help companies take a bite out of food spoilage and ensure that perishable goods get to their destination fresh. (Source: iStock, Smederevac)

Food waste is a massive global problem, one that modern cold chain visibility solutions can help solve.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that roughly a third of food produced globally is lost or wasted. That’s 1.6 billion tons of food worth more than $1.2 trillion. In most industries, a business simply would not survive with those kinds of waste numbers.

According to the USDA, an incredible 30% to 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste, including vast amounts of produce. Spoilage is one major cause, and much of it occurs during transportation.

Spoilage can happen at any point along the journey, from producer to processor to distribution center to retailer or food service. For example, delays in loading and unloading can cause temperatures in the trailer to rise. Containers may sit waiting at a port for days when there’s a backup. Long delays at inspection sites or customs can keep trucks from arriving on time. And of course, there are reefer equipment failures and temperature setting errors.

Retailers know they can’t put wilted or brown lettuce in their produce displays. Shoppers won’t buy it, and reputations will be spoiled along with the greens. Worse, if perishable goods haven’t been kept within temperature compliance during transit, they could be unsafe for consumption.

The value of environmental condition data

To win the battle against food spoilage, shippers and carriers need the ability to collect and act on key data throughout a food shipment’s journey — not just at checkpoints or milestones or after the fact. Much of this data comes from sensor tags that measure and log environmental conditions including temperature, humidity and light as the food moves from plane to train to tractor-trailer to truck.

Access to location and environmental condition data both in real time and post-shipment can help reduce food spoilage in several ways.

If a sensor tag indicates that goods are experiencing a deviation from the temperature threshold, a real-time alert can allow the shipper to intervene immediately, potentially saving the entire shipment. Logged environmental data can tell the true story of whether the cold chain was maintained throughout the entire journey, and possibly avert an outbreak of food-borne illness if it wasn’t. If a pallet has gone missing, a tag on the pallet will reveal its location, potentially before spoilage occurs.

Giving cargo a life of its own

Granular supply chain visibility relies in no small part on smart, low-cost sensors such as Bluetooth low energy (BLE) sensor tags. As the cost of these tags decreases, it becomes feasible to track not just containers but also totes and pallets as they move through the supply chain and collect data in real time. Disposable sensor tags eliminate the hassle of gathering the tags after the journey ends and sending them back to the supplier.

Instrumenting a load or shipment all the way down to the pallet or tote level allows shippers to keep eyes on it from the point of pack to the last mile, no matter the mode of transportation or whether it’s split into different routes.

Companies such as CalAmp that offer end-to-end supply chain solutions are helping customers devise seamless operations workflows so that a shipment can automatically synchronize with the different technologies the cargo sees during its journey.  This includes telematics gateways at cold storage warehouses and loading docks, telematics devices on trucks and trailers and apps on tablets held by drivers. In this way, shippers can know what’s happening inside that load no matter who’s carrying it.

Automation of data collection reduces error-prone human activities such as scanning shipments and taking temperature readings. Having one continuous point of data collection for each individual load allows for the creation of actionable events that can help shippers preserve the quality of the shipment between and during handoffs.

Trend analysis for risk mitigation 

With granular, automatically logged data on location and environmental condition excursions, shippers and logistics providers can begin to perform all-important trend analysis. As they hone in on the biggest causes of spoilage and the most vulnerable points in the shipment journey, they can begin to take measures to proactively address situations in which loss might take place.

They may perform predictive analysis to understand the highest-risk routes and handling processes, for instance. Fine tuning operations to minimize those risks can save not only shipments but bottom-line revenue.

Technology and regulation compliance

Maintaining and validating the cold chain will become increasingly necessary as the regulatory landscape evolves.

The FDA’s proposed rule Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods would require companies in the food supply chain to establish and maintain records to improve traceability. An end-to-end cold-chain monitoring system that provides automated remote logging of environmental condition data will reduce the record-keeping burden if this rule goes into effect.

ROI for shippers and carriers

A tremendous opportunity exists for companies to implement technology to reduce food waste and recoup some of the dollars that are currently being left on the table due to spoilage. Making supply chain and cold chain infrastructure improvements that reduce food waste can deliver massive ROI.

Solutions that enable real-time visibility, automated data collection and predictive analysis are here now. Providers such as CalAmp can help companies large and small figure out how to take advantage of these supply chain technologies.

Contact CalAmp for help protecting your cold chain and reducing food spoilage through the latest cold chain monitoring technology.

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