While proper handling and transport of goods is always an important aspect of logistics, this is an especially critical issue when it comes to perishable goods. Cold chain logistics is just as much about science as it is about efficiency, consistency and technology. To properly prepare, store, transport and monitor temperature-sensitive commodities, the logistics processes must continually adapt and evolve to meet the more complex needs that arise with cold-chain logistics.
Because the quality of certain perishable goods degrades over time, they are particularly sensitive to handling problems and scheduling delays. When perishables are kept at improper temperatures due to issues like sitting too long on a loading dock or excessive wait times at ports, this significantly reduces their shelf life and leads to a loss of value and an excess of waste.
Poor forecasting that results from a lack of end-to-end supply chain visibility is a particular problem that cold-chain logistics is facing with COVID-19. The pandemic has created several food and pharmaceutical demand shifts that are placing increased pressure on suppliers to move perishable products in a faster, more efficient manner.
Challenges with COVID-19
The pandemic has led to a level of uncertainty that is unprecedented in the logistics sector. Once predictable demand patterns are now erratic, lead times are often uncertain and the entire supply chain has been disrupted in one way or another. Currently, there is no definite timetable for when or how things will return to a semblance of normal, and there is no framework for what the new normal will look like for suppliers.
In the earlier days of the pandemic, many communities around the world were thrown into a panic because of empty shelves and the perceived scarcity of certain perishable goods. This was actually a failure of our current cold-chain logistics systems, and it highlighted our need for a transformation in how global cold-chain processes are handled.
In addition to this, online commerce has exploded, and this is a change that will remain in place long after the pandemic dangers have passed. This is another major shift in demand that the entire logistics sector was initially unprepared for, and it is one that the industry had to rapidly evolve and adapt to.
Best Practices For Food Systems
According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, inconsistencies in cold-chain logistics processes are the primary cause of spoilage. True cold-chain shipment must maintain uninterrupted refrigeration through every step to maintain the integrity of the goods. This requires proper management and adherence to a list of best practices.
1. Deploy real-time alerts to aid loss prevention efforts.
Suppliers must implement IoT technologies that will allow them to gather and analyze shipment data in real-time. This allows for instant alerts when a problem is detected, and it streamlines the entire process.
2. Enhance driver safety and communication.
Leveraging GPS-enabled equipment will allow for better communication and safety monitoring for drivers as well as better route optimization.
3. Maximize route efficiency.
Reducing the number of handoff points in a route eliminates opportunities for things to go wrong. Additionally, consolidating shipments to maximize the number of full truckloads is the better route for the fewest problems.
4. Make cold storage maintenance a priority.
Damaged cooler doors, improper seals and accumulated condensation are all hazards to the safety and efficiency of the supply chain. These small maintenance fixes can prevent spoilage, waste, mildewing and problems with employee and consumer safety.
The Importance of Temperature Integrity
Shippers must understand how to adapt their equipment to best carry their specific perishable cargo. Temperature requirements may vary between foods, and medical supplies may require an entirely different set of temperature controls.
Knowing the routes that the cargo will be taking is essential to creating the optimal environment. Proper planning for ambient temperatures, shipment size and container type can not only reduce overall energy consumption but ensure that all cargo is kept within correct atmospheric controls.
Shipment preparation is one of the key issues that cold-chain logistics faces. While temperature-controlled containers can maintain a constant temperature, they are generally not equipped to bring a shipment to a specific temperature, which can cause problems if the cargo is exposed to extreme heat or cold during transit.
One way to protect both cargo and driver is to maintain proper documentation. In most cases, more information is better, and drivers are often encouraged to check in with dispatch and transportation providers regularly to establish a timeline for their route in case something goes wrong.
In our opinion, cold is hot, and even though our world feels smaller thanks to globalization, the challenges that result from a physical distance are very real.
The demand for perishables is going to continue to grow, and the cold-chain sector needs to grow along with it. Check out the full SPI white paper here for more information.