Building a stronger food safety culture through a digitally connected cold chain

Food & beverage

The food industry’s cold chain continues to grow in complexity, and, as a result, many businesses, including food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants and food retailers, are finding it difficult to control their end-to-end supply chains. Today, there are many stakeholders involved in the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, holding, selling, and delivering of a temperature-sensitive food product from farm to fork. For this reason, it’s crucial that businesses understand the risk points so they can effectively mitigate risk while meeting the regulatory and internal quality compliance requirements, and satisfying consumer demands for greater transparency.

The cold chain is an important segment of the food value chain, where maintaining product visibility is mission critical, as it can lead to food quality and safety issues and substantially impact brand reputation as well as the bottom line. One small quality issue in the food and beverage industry can lead to thousands of people getting sick. One single recall can have disastrous consequences on an entire industry and permanently affect the public’s trust in your brand.

The key to preventing food quality and safety issues is to create a culture of food safety. You can have this culture in your organization when each team member holds quality and safety as top priorities. This is easier to do within your internal organization, but it becomes more challenging when extending to external suppliers.

Food safety culture needs to be driven from the management level to ensure that it aligns with a company’s overall business objectives. While the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and consumer demands for transparency are driving many businesses to rethink their internal food safety strategies across the organization, traditionally, food quality and safety was driven at the functional level, where non-quality teams may not have fully understood how their decisions might affect food safety and impact their business. Businesses these days are realizing that an effective and efficient food safety culture requires stakeholder buy-in at all levels, and is one that is demonstrated at the leadership level and that also extends to all partners working with a company. 

Under FSMA, several rules impact how the food industry should assess risk and implement mitigation strategies for their supply chains. Despite these rules, effective supplier management remains a challenge for many food companies due to challenges in information sharing and the numerous supply chain stakeholders who are involved. Policies and standards that are aligned to and support the culture and business objectives should help define the supplier management program.

Many food chains continue to maintain paper documentation for cold chain shipments and supplier information, which can affect the speed at which a food recall can happen. It also makes continuous improvement initiatives difficult.

Businesses these days need to understand how innovations and disruptive solutions, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud analytics, machine learning, blockchain, and control tower services can not only help them to identify and sufficiently manage food quality and safety while improving cold chain efficiency and effectiveness, but also to drive food safety culture throughout the supply chain.

Automated cold chain visibility technology and services can serve as a single source of truth end-to-end, alleviating the manual handling required to upload data from loggers at the end of every shipment, and providing real-time environmental data and product traceability information so that immediate corrective action can be taken.  

A single source of truth for environmental and product movement data

Since cold chain challenges affect your operations and products, they indirectly affect the consumers of your products. Failure to overcome these challenges risks the health of your consumers. Here are some of the most pertinent challenges and how automated quality tracking systems help you overcome them and keep your consumers safe and healthy.

Accuracy of information: When information is passed from along party to party, there’s a good chance it may get unintentionally altered from start to finish. Sometimes information is misread, misinterpreted, or recorded incorrectly, but inaccuracies may be catastrophic. 

Response time: The more people you have involved in your operations, the more it takes to plan and execute, or to respond to issues. Too long of a delay leaves quality issues undetected or unresolved for too long. For every minute that a quality issue goes unresolved in the food and beverage industry, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people could get sick. Quick response time is critical for a food safety culture.

Using a system that supports notifications and alerts can drastically reduce response time and ensure that potentially critical issues are responded to. Important information won’t sit unread in an inbox. 

Security concerns: Collaborating with suppliers and logistics partners means including them in your operations, but that may put sensitive information at risk. However, overcorrecting by keeping partner stakeholders separate from the rest of your processes doesn’t work, either. Excluding partners completely makes collaboration more difficult and prevents you from maximizing the relationship. You would have to rely on outdated and inefficient communication methods like email, instead of extending your current quality system to incorporate suppliers.

To address this challenge, you can use a centralized software platform that is user permissioned, only providing access to what users need to complete their tasks. Confidential information is safe, and you can track product quality data throughout.

Automated cold chain tracking reduces manual entry and the likelihood of human error, ensuring that your information is accurate. Having everything recorded and documented lets you have confidence that your data is accurate and your consumers will be safe, and that they’ll have trust in your brand.

Continuous cold chain improvement

In addition to alleviating supplier challenges, promoting continuous improvement is important to building a food safety culture. Automated cold chain monitoring and traceability systems provide the tools needed to work towards these goals.

Notifications and reminders: Not only do notifications and alerts decrease response time, they also increase accountability. Together they promote an organization-wide priority of quality and control, which leads to more efficient operations.

Data and reporting: An automated cold chain monitoring system provides a platform to track, collect, and analyze environmental and shipment data. Having visibility into all operations lets you instantly see what is going on, what your strengths are and where you need to improve. Data can be used to improve supplier relationships, improve shipment routes, and improve product quality, safety, and shelf life. Over time, predictive and prescriptive analytics be serve as a driving force behind decisions and changes that will lead to improvement.

When you’re constantly getting better, your products will be better and safer. Having a common goal of increased food safety engrains quality management into your organization’s culture.

In conclusion

As companies identify their key performance indicators, and implement solutions that automate the monitoring of them, including with their suppliers, business leadership will have greater visibility into supply chain performance and a better understanding of how their food safety and quality programs are performing. Real-time temperature and quality visibility enables businesses to better mitigate risk in their cold chain, proactively manage supplier relationships and take corrective action or terminate those that are not reaching clearly communicated goals.