Transportation of Perishables-The Importance of Paying Attention to the Cold Chain

Food safety and quality can no longer be taken for granted with food borne illness becoming such a widespread issue. The cold chain serves the function of keeping food fresh for extended periods and eliminating doubts over the quality of the food products. Breaches in the cold chain actually contribute to a 25% waste of all perishable food products in the U.S. each year. From a brokerage perspective it is vital that the booking agent is proactive. These types of activities include collecting temperature data from the truck when making check calls, and if the freight is extremely sensitive performing 2-3 status inquiries could be appropriate.

About 70% of all the food consumed in the United States is handled by the cold chains. The United States alone imports about 30% of its fruits and vegetables and about 20% of its food exports can be considered perishables.

These figures are shocking and certainly show how important it is for one who is shipping perishable products, especially in the much warmer temperatures of summer needs to be aware of things that can make a shipped load go South, so to speak.

Moving a shipment across the supply chain without suffering any setbacks or temperature anomalies requires a comprehensive logistical process to maintain the integrity of the shipment. This process concerns several phases ranging from the preparation of the shipments to final verification of the integrity of the shipment at the delivery point.

•Preparing the Shipment: When temperature sensitive products are being transported one of the key concerns is that the product should already be at the desired temperature when the load is transferred to the truck. If the product is not at the correct temperature most refer units are not designed, nor able to bring product down to where it needs to be. If the transporter is not aware of this they could be held liable by the recipient for the load coming in with the cold chain broken. While it is not the responsibility of the brokerage agent to assure the product is at temp when the load is picked up, it is advisable as they ultimately will pay the price.

•Custom Procedures: When freight crosses boundaries, custom procedures may become essential, since cold-chain products are generally time sensitive and highly subject to inspection as compared to general freight. Examples of these can be produce, pharmaceuticals, & biologicals. Customs issues are usually the most crucial in establishing reliable international cold chains.

•The “Last Mile”: The actual delivery of the product to its destination, in logistics is often known as the “last mile”. Key considerations when arranging a final delivery concern not only the destination, but also timing of the delivery so the critical labor and warehousing space is available. Trucks are the primary modes of transportation for this stage and must meet the specifications necessary to transfer the cold chain shipment. Since many deliveries of cold chain products, particularly groceries, are taking place in an urban setting, congestion and parking difficulties must be considered. Also important is the final transfer of the shipment into the cold storage facilities as there is potential for a breach of integrity.

•Integrity and Quality Assurance: After the shipment has been delivered, any temperature recording devices or known temperature anomalies must be recorded and made known. This is the step of the logistical process that creates trust and accountability, particularly if liability for a damaged shipment is incurred. If problems or anomalies that compromise a shipment do occur, an effort must be made to identify the source and find corrective actions. If any “breaks” in the cold chain do occur for any reason some recipients have policies that require them to refuse the load. This is one of those “gotchas” that creates a situation where the load is worth a fraction of it’s original value and must be sold to another supplier immediately or it will be a complete loss.

Transporting perishables has different requirements in terms of demand, load integrity, and transport integrity, paired with the specific equipment of a refrigerated unit and the energy necessary to run it make transportation costs for cold chain products much higher than standard goods so the risk is much higher for the booking agent. On the flip side, a skilled agent can create a niche market if they build the skills necessary to take care of these types of loads. The continual rise in living standards and economic specialization will drive the growing demand for perishable good logistics and those who build the skills to consistently perform will be linchpins for both those needing to ship perishables, as well as those receiving them.

Are you a shipper who needs help with your perishable product transport, or an agent looking to work with a company that is large enough to get the job done and small enough to care? We would love to hear from you-give Joey Hougham from Trangistics a call at (541) 923-6309.