Demand for reefer monitoring spikes after COVID-19

Red reefer truck on highway under blue sky

The COVID-19 pandemic put exorbitant pressure on supply chains – only to expose their vulnerabilities. However, these vulnerabilities aren’t new, especially around food safety and refrigeration. 

The meat processing plants that shut down, the produce that spoiled waiting for a truck and the dairy farmers who dumped good milk were events spurred by the coronavirus, but they shine light on the 1.3 billion tons of food that is lost or wasted each year. 

Produce season may be slowing out West, as seen on the chart below in green, but telematics companies like Powerfleet have seen a recent spike in interest around refrigeration monitoring – evidence that shippers and carriers are taking it upon themselves to invest in the required technologies to monitor food more closely than before. 

“Perhaps reefer carriers recognized the absolute need to improve control of their product in the potential face of litigation or a second wave,” added Norm Thomas, senior executive of industry relations at Powerfleet. “It’s also possible that customers will be looking for carriers with high-end telematics systems on reefer trailers, so carriers want to keep that competitive advantage.”

“We have found that having remote control and remote start capabilities of the refrigerated systems has become critical to ensure that a driver does not have to leave his or her cab,” said Craig Montgomery, senior vice president of global branding. “Everything is done remotely from the dispatch office.”

But “real-time” temperature monitoring technology is not required under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2011. In fact, FMSA regulation doesn’t fully detail the method or frequency that drivers should record record temperatures, whether manually or electronically, every 8 hours or every 15 minutes. 

The regulation is therefore left to the interpretation of the shipper and carrier. Some carriers are cautious and adopt self-imposed monitoring systems, while others are hands-off, only submitting the minimum temperature requirement. However, many carriers are realizing that providing the temperatures electronically is far better than having a driver record it, due to the discrepancies of human error. 

“Many carriers want greater visibility on their service in general, outside of the fact the government is pressing for more regulation, which is rarely effective in solving a problem,” said Zach Strickland, director of freight market intelligence at FreightWaves. “Technology and visibility can be a great differentiation when capacity is loose.”

Cooling Concepts, an Illinois-based trailer leasing company, owns 1,200 trailers across 36 states, and 100% of the refrigerated trailers are equipped with PowerFleet’s telematics, as well as two other telematics systems. Cooling Concepts focuses its business on the food service industry, including food processors, distributors and manufacturers. 

“We have a fleet service center that is monitoring over 100 different types of alarms by using telematics and these alarm codes are coming off the refrigeration units,” said Tim Shasserre, president of Cooling Concepts. “We’re able to proactively and reactively monitor the loads and temperatures for clients in advance of the driver calling if there is an issue.”

Clients tell Shasserre that one of the benefits of telematics is having data at their fingertips. It’s a cost savings to them as a whole, he said, because Cooling Concepts has invested $250,000 in technology so its clients don’t have to and also don’t have to provide the labor to protect their own loads 24/7. 

“Through the telematics we’re able to provide everything in real time,” said Shasserre. “My back office team is able to generate customized reporting tools for our clients that saves our clients tremendous amounts of money and also time. Just an example, we had a client that had a driver pull off to the side and went into a subdivision and took a whole pallet of product off the trailer and then ended up losing his job. Through the telematics, we were able to pinpoint exactly where the driver went.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, Shasserre said that clients want more tools to assist them in training their drivers on temperature monitoring. Cooling Concepts is working to launch training videos. In regards to how the COVID-19 pandemic has imprinted on this segment of the supply chain, he foresees more regulation. 

“The presidents of other companies and manufacturers that I talk to on an ongoing basis share a feeling that the government is going to insist on more regulations and more demands for temperature moderating systems, and the enhancement of telematics is going to be very valuable as we move forward,” Shasserre said.