Temperature incursions into cold storage containers cause massive food waste

Temperature incursions into cold storage containers cause massive food waste (Photo: Shutterstock)

Over the last two decades, supply chains have witnessed incredible progress in the context of expediting freight movement, improving operational efficiency and increasing visibility. However, when the food supply chain niche is under focus, several issues can be seen cropping up across the spectrum – primary of which is food waste, that continues to mount with each passing year. 

The waste of food is a gargantuan problem, accounting for roughly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions every year. Though a major chunk of this comes from end consumers who discard excess and throw out stale products, a significant portion leaks out of supply chain operations, usually due to a lack of coordination between different stakeholders in the value chain. 

“Market data shows that we have around $35 billion in food spoilage every year. One of the major reasons for spoilage is pest infestation,” said Chris Wolfe, the CEO of logistics solutions provider PowerFleet. “The two major reasons that go hand-in-hand in pest infestation are temperature incursions and bad handling.”

For supply chains looking to facilitate the movement of food from the farm to the table, maintaining order across several logistics nodal points is vital. The foremost concern for a perishable commodity is the way it is stored and transported. There are often requirements to use effective cold storage for the perishables. Cold storage containers keep products at a certain temperature, helping perishables to stay fresh and increasing their shelf lives. 

However, even within a carefully controlled environment, temperature incursions can happen. “From the point in time the product leaves the shelf in a controlled environment to the point where it goes across the dock, there can be several incursions. For instance, the doors might not be sealed correctly on the trailers. To avoid this, cold chain warehouses will have to set up specific doors that prevent air intrusion,” said Wolfe. 

Wolfe advocated for the use of two-way command and temperature controls rather than the basic temperature monitoring tools that stakeholders use for their cold storage freight. Equipping cold storage containers with a two-way command control helps manage possible temperature incursions without affecting the conditions prevailing within the container as stakeholders can adjust temperature settings in real-time. 

“This is important, as outside ambient temperature while driving through Arizona in summer is very different from driving through North Dakota during winter,” said Wolfe. “The reefer unit can do both – increase or decrease the temperature from its surroundings to maintain a constant temperature. But the ambient temperature can cause incursions when the doors are opened during loading and unloading events, or when there is a change in air pressure.”

Temperature incursions and sloppy handling of products cause pest infestation. This is a critical issue as the existence of pests within containers is usually only found in the latter end of the supply chain process, leading to a massive waste of resources. 

“Even large businesses that extensively monitor their containers are susceptible to pest infestation. For example, cockroaches are attracted to the glue in packaging, and rats are attracted to not just the grains but also to electrical wiring,” said Wolfe. “You could have pest infestation even in non-food type shipments.”

If in the event of an infestation attack, businesses need to back-track the chain of custody to understand the infestation origin to quell the source. For global food supply chains, the origin of such pests might be across economically poor countries that do not have tight controls over its product handling. 

To ensure that refrigerated units work as required, it is crucial to keep them properly maintained to avoid unexpected breakdown. These units must also be fueled on time, as there have been several instances where cooling units run out of fuel in the middle of a food transit, forcing companies to discard entire shipments. 

Data analytics can also be used to improve efficiency and avoid temperature incursions. “You can do predictive temperature management. If you know the freight route and the forecast of the ambient temperature outside, you can take proactive steps to adjust precooling of the cooling units, which can reduce temperature incursions during loading and reloading,” said Wolfe.