Did you know that cold chain systems are used till the very last moment you consume your food? Temperature of chilled or frozen foods are monitored through most supply chains using refrigeration systems. With inappropriate storage conditions, food waste and decrease of food shelf life are susceptible to occur. In Canada, it is estimated that nearly 40% of the food produced is wasted. Along any loss, comes a significant impact on the economy of one organization. It is calculated that in Canada, the food wasted is worth more than $25 billion dollars, which is unacceptable given the world’s growing population and the saturation of land resources for agriculture.
Food safety is prominent in Canada and is controlled at the federal level. Industries must comply with all requirements and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). In our country, three main public partners exist: Health Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. Whether one’s mission is to set out food safety standards, effective food safety management or to provide support at a scientific level to the food industry, all long to ensure product quality and safety in accordance with the food safety legislation. Note that regulations and standards on the quality of perishable food are often reviewed to always meet with international standards and change of resources and technologies.
Although appropriate legislation is contributing to the maintenance of an effective cold chain system with food manufacturers and retailers, consumers on the other hand, don’t necessarily know the basic principles of a cold chain system when purchasing food products. When caterers and consumers are buying products from food suppliers, the responsibility of manipulating the products safely until the point of eating is up to their duty. After all, it is useless if manufacturers and retailers appoint necessary qualified food scientists and food safety experts to implement and monitor quality and safety measures if food is mistreated by consumers, caterers and restaurateurs.
To help and take part in preventing food risks, here are some guidelines:
Verify if fridges and freezers are equipped with thermometers.
Verify that fridges and freezers are functioning properly and are maintained at the right temperature.
Verify that store freezers and cabinets are not overloaded. (i.e. no restriction of air circulation)
Verify that products are stored according to their food sections (i.e. fresh meat separate from prepared or cooked meats)
Pack fruits and vegetables separately from meat and fish
Verify meat discoloration and if excessive drip is happening
Verify that promoted products are kept in cold areas and not displayed at the front for visibility purposes
Verify that frozen food packs are not damaged
Verify if there’s any sign of thaw (i.e. water marks on boxes, soft box)
Verify that chilled foods are marked with an expiry date/use-by date
Buy frozen and chilled food at the end and pack them in an insulated bag of box
Verify that products are not left unsupervised in hallways during stocking
Ideally, keep frozen and chilled food in an insulated bag or box during transportation
Get food refrigerated as soon as possible
Verify that raw food is not in contact with prepared or cooked food
Store uncooked food on the lower shelf of the refrigerator
Cover food at all times
Verify refrigerator temperature (should be below 5ºC with a max. of 8ºC)
Verify freezer temperature (Should be below -15ºC with a max. of -18ºC)
Thaw frozen food completely and ideally in the refrigerator
Do not refreeze food once thawed, unless thoroughly cooked
Avoid cross contamination (i.e. working surfaces, utensils, food to food contact)
Wash hands regularly between handling of raw and cooked food
Avoid leaving food uncovered at room temperature for long periods of time
We’ve discussed how end consumers, caterers and restaurants can improve their supply chain after buying, but it is not only up to them to contribute in correcting and improving to a better cold chain supply chain. Companies like ours, are also responsible for making the necessary changes and progression.
Here are some actions that cold chain companies can take:
Making sure to have reliable food transportation partners
Choose a reliable carrier company
Avoid low-cost carriers to prevent mismanaging of products (i.e. spoilage)
Fortify food safety protocols and guidelines,
Plan transportation ahead with carriers and 3PL partners for the produce season regardless of the location
Verify weekly and daily storage capacity
Allow extra lead time
Provide accurate volume information to avoid tender rejections
Adopt peak seasonality to apprehend customers consumption volume
Ensure regular communication and supervision between production and distribution centers
Ensure to have data collection and analysis records of temperatures
Track food products with new wireless technology available.
Companies in the food industry work towards improving cold chain management systems with the sole purpose of reducing waste. With new technologies and science available, like the Internet of Things (IoT), monitoring food products is more achievable and effective than never before. Wireless technology, like IoT, makes it possible for shippers to track the condition of their products from beginning to end. Loggers are usually sent with shipments as they provide real-time status and updates to manufacturers, food retailers, courier’s drivers, etc. While solutions like this keep advancing, it is inevitable that there’s always room for infrastructure improvement regarding food safety and economy.
The cold chain varies from country to country around the world. In consequence, it is important to take many factors into consideration when implementing a cold chain system. Whether it is the market trends, the process of imported and exported products, climate change, transportation distance and availability of technologies and sources of energy.
Nonetheless, thanks to great innovations and accessible technology, cold chain systems are now improved and solutions are underway for a better future.