The Revolution and Challenges of the Cold Supply Chain

Refrigerated trucks are at the center of cold chain logistics, using a variety of methods to safeguard critical shipments.

Since their inception, refrigerated trucks have led the way for today’s cold supply chain. Their temperature-controlled technology allows them to transport perishable products to remote locations. Because these trucks transport perishable food over long distances, time is of the essence for maintaining their original quality, according to the Logistics Bureau.1

“From the moment the fish is landed, the [animal] slaughtered, the fruit or vegetable is harvested, or the bread leaves the oven, time and distance become the enemies of freshness. In fact, fresh produce typically spends up to half of its shelf life in transit between supplier and retailer, so the clock is ticking from the moment it begins its journey to retailers’ shelves.”

The cold supply chain is unique from other lines of logistics that transport conventional goods. This is because they require experts who understand its intricacies.

“In comparison to many other product supply chains … the fresh supply chain must be faster, must handle goods with more care, use more specialised and expensive hardware, and focus more intently on quality through every leg in the journey from producer to retail store.”1

The introduction of temperature-controlled food transportation offered citizens the benefit of more variety. With this increased food supply, prices dropped and the products were less vulnerable to spoilage, which positively impacted families with lower economic means in particular. Overall, cold logistics showed the  prevention of food borne bacteria was paramount to people’s health and safety.2

Today, cold chain technology has moved past traditional trucking fleets. Food often travels airborne on a global scale so consumers can eat fruit when it’s out of season. Airplanes use cold logistics technology to fly sushi straight from Japan to North America in one day. Soon after, it’s devoured at a fancy restaurant, fresh as it was when it launched from a Tokyo runway.

Cold logistics was born and endless potential for improvements became possible. So, too, came inevitable challenges.  

Cold Supply Chain Data

One of the greatest challenges of refrigerated logistics is the consistent tracking of its data. This data is crucial for ensuring that the shipment retains its original state. However, this data must be monitored and recorded by workers who often forget to do so.

“Documenting product storage conditions is of great importance in the cold chain. This is important for every step, but even more so during in-transit. Sometimes, downloading conventional temperature recording devices (or “data loggers”) and documenting the storage conditions is often forgotten or just plain neglected. If this vital step is neglected, the carrier and the receiver will not be able to verify product safety upon arrival. This can potentially leave all parties subject to claims and/or additional charges.”3

The demand for accountability from freight drivers to monitor data during each shipment regularly is necessary for preserving its quality. There’s a lot at stake for logistics companies.  Not only could they stand to lose food shipments worth thousands of dollars, but if people were to eat any spoiled food, it could cause irreversible damage to the logistics company. Tracking data is a matter of complying with ethical standards.

The Environmental Footprint of Cold Logistics

Globally, one-third of the world’s food production goes to waste since many developing countries have not attained the equivalent of North America’s cold chain technology. “Researchers estimate that if developing countries had the same level of refrigerated transport and warehousing as the United States does, between a quarter and half that food could be saved.”4

It’s difficult to say when this advanced technology will be accessible to underdeveloped countries. But for now, scientists are creating temperature-controlled and environmentally-friendly systems that European and Western countries can likely take advantage of. This is a positive thing for cold logistics companies that want to minimize harm to the environment.

“A handful of companies, including Thermo King, have been looking into cryogenic temperature control systems, as liquid nitrogen refrigeration units are called. A recent survey by California’s Air Resources Board found that, compared with the diesel-powered refrigerated trucks currently delivering America’s meat, dairy, and produce, cryogenic systems cool down more rapidly, are much quieter, contain no polluting refrigerant chemicals, and, most important, generate absolutely no greenhouse gas emissions or asthma-triggering particulates while in use.”4

In a world where people depend on the cold supply chain, they are now able to taste foods, even if they’re out of season. They have learned to trust the food they serve at their kitchen table and have access to good nutrition. The temperature-controlled supply chain is credited for positively impacting the lives of people worldwide. To continue to do so, logisticians  must understand product safety and all the necessary details of refrigerated trucking. 

Cited works
1 “7 Things That Matter Most to Fresh Supply Chain Leaders.” Logistics Bureau, October 24, 2016.
2 Dean, Lee. “How Refrigeration Changed Our Lives.” Star Tribune, March 9, 2014.
3 “The 4 Most Common Cold Chain Logistics Problems Truckers Face and Tips for Solving Them.” United World Transportation, February 22, 2018.
4 Twilley, Nicola. “The Chill Ride Your Food Takes to the Supermarket Is Heating Up the Planet.” takepart, June 28, 2015.
2020-01-27T08:23:33-08:00January 27th, 2020|