7 best practices for an agile cold chain

Cold chain management

Temperature-controlled logistics is mission critical for the food and pharma supply chains. One foodborne outbreak can devastate a restaurant or retail chain for years. Depending on the size, one shipment of pharmaceuticals can cost anywhere from $150,000 to tens of millions of dollars if temperatures during shipment aren’t adequately maintained. Obviously, growth and profitability are are an immediate risk of a broken cold chain, but so too are product safety, quality, brand integrity, and long-term growth potential.

Cold chain shippers can help mitigate these risks by adopting agile supply chain best practices to meet the complexity of cold chains.

When transporting fresh produce, frozen foods, flowers, medicines and vaccines, and other temperature sensitive products, speed to market is critical. An efficient and effective cold chain is achieved when all key stakeholders, including producers, growers, manufacturers, shippers, carriers, vendors, and providers understand the importance of these practices.

Choose the right temperature controlled specialists

Logistics includes a lot of planning and strategy. Even before a shipment is picked up, there are a number of people working to ensure its safe transportation, particularly for temperature sensitive goods. Where many businesses fail is realizing that there’s a significant difference between supply chain expertise and cold chain expertise. This becomes even more important if the products fall under the FDA’s sanitary transport rule and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Trained professionals in cold chain transport are better able to understand all of the variables and regulations relevant to a cold chain to keep freight safe and fresh from beginning to end. Whether they have internal expertise or regularly rely on cold chain experts, shippers that work with temperature sensitive shipments regularly will be ahead of those that don’t.

A qualified cold chain expert should understand the important relationship between shippers and carriers and also understand the business challenges involved so they can identify and help resolve potential problems quickly. Work with specialists who look to balance load qualities to optimize results for all stakeholders involved.

Find the right freight forwarder

Temperature-sensitive assets traveling by air, ocean, rail, or road present their own unique sets of needs, and balancing them will help optimize the right results. For example, high-value goods may benefit from a faster, albeit more expensive, shipping option. A truck shipping food might return cartons or another good on the way back to help reduce shipping costs. By considering these needs, the right shippers might help mitigate these costs by securing the right capacity through innovative and strategic planning.

Coordination will need to include a balancing of the pros and cons:

Ocean freight:

  • Cost effective for long shipments
  • Can leave less of a carbon footprint
  • Generally longer transit times

Air cargo:

  • Speed can reduce likelihood of spoilage
  • Higher associated costs
  • Temperature difficult to maintain

Rail shipments:

  • Efficient for long journeys
  • May pose challenges for hard deadlines
  • Defined transport corridors

Road freight:

  • Flexible routes for distances
  • May pose challenges for hard deadlines
  • Variable capacity available

Establish mutual expectations early on

All key stakeholders should be involved up front to define roles, expectations, and requirements to reduce risk. All details of the shipment process, including the technology used, processes for reviews, returns, and rejections, temperature boundaries, and contingency plans should be discussed and agreed to. Any obligations required under the sanitary transport rule should also be clearly defined. These mutual understandings will help to avoid confusion and delay when timing is critical, and clear expectations help to prevent any breaks in the cold chain that can become areas of dispute later on.

Consolidate technology

There is a misconception that temperature controlled technologies that enable real-time monitoring for the global cold chain, including with GPS tracking and temperature, humidity, and light IoT sensors must come with a hefty price tag. While that may have been true in the past, it isn’t any longer. Controlant’s cold chain monitoring solution is subscription based and requires no upfront investments in hardware or software. Companies can get started immediately and pay per shipment or on a monthly subscription basis. Our managed reverse logistics services mean that data loggers are always available on site for shipments.   

Food chains can expect that all logistics partners use the same technology for end-to-end visibility, and no longer need to compromise on cost versus technology for only parts of their cold chain.

Share responsibility for loading and unloading shipments

When temperature-sensitive products are involved, loading and unloading adds new factors into the process, which can mean the difference between a broken and an unbroken cold chain. Not only does the temperature of a truck or container need to be maintained, but shipper and carriers should bear the responsibility for the temperature of the loading dock, which factors in variables such as the outdoor temperature and conditions, and the time needed to load or unload the palettes.

Before accepting any loads, carriers should confirm the product temperatures needed for the load. If it arrives at the wrong temperatures, it may need to be rejected. Equipment should be inspected before it’s used to ensure that it’s in proper working order. Clear guidance should be agreed to on whether that should be the carrier or the shipper.

Airflow in a container or truck should be checked. The way that pallets are stacked can affect the airflow, since any blocked air can cause temperature hot spots. Shippers should oversee the process to ensure that there is sufficient space for air to pass between walls, pallets, ceiling, and floor. Temperature monitoring devices can be placed on the wall of a truck to measure ambient air, but should also be placed on the palette level to ensure that proper temperature and airflow has been maintained throughout the journey.

Develop standard operating procedures

Temperature-controlled shipping necessitates strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) and establishing clear processes to further mitigate risks and close any gaps. Topics such as proper packaging techniques, pickups and deliveries, reverse device logistics, notifications and excursion procedures, and handling equipment issues should be covered. SOPs may be simple or detailed but should factor in the applicable regulations and clearly define who is responsible, what needs to happen, and how checks, balances and review occurs.

Achieve end-to-end collaboration

Collaboration with all key stakeholders is critical for long-term temperature controlled success in the cold chain. Establishing processes and setting expectations is a necessary component. So, too, is sharing of data. Transparency of shipment information, such as through a shared cloud platform, through which stakeholders have access only to relevant data, can help reduce inefficiencies and save product loads before waste occurs.

Long-term temperature controlled success depends on the right level of collaboration, expertise, and technology to help mitigate risk and ensure positive outcomes for all stakeholders across the cold chain, including a safe, high-quality product delivered to the end consumer.

Try a pilot

Controlant provides and end-to-end solution to cost-effectively scale real-time temperature and product movement visibility across the entire supply chain. Get started with a pilot today.

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