Investigative Report – How Technology has Changed Cold Chain Logistics and Created a New Class of Refrigerated Transportation

One of the primary factors that make modern life the healthiest in history is the creation of a safe food supply. From production to transportation to consumption, Americans enjoy protection from many of the dangers that are inherent in the pathogens and bacteria naturally occurring in food products.

Managing an Ever-Present Threat

These advances notwithstanding, foodborne illnesses still occur at a rate that makes constant diligence essential. According to one study, there are an estimated 76 million instances of illness caused by foodborne bacteria, viral and parasitic agents. These illnesses and deaths are responsible for costs that range from more than $6 billion to $35 billion dollars.

The simple fact is that the very nutrients that make many food products a key element for human survival also nurture bacteria and other harmful agents if they are not handled properly. To prevent the growth of these disease-causing organisms, scientists and health experts have developed detailed and exacting controls for handling, transporting and selling all types of foods and vegetables. One of the most important developments for food safety in the 20th century was that of efficient cold chain logistics.

The Role of Refrigerated Transportation

Transporting refrigerated items is now a critical element of cold chain logistics, creating an industry projected to be greater than $14 billion a year by 2020. This represents remarkable growth for the industry as, until the turn of the 20th century, it was commonly understood that food and consumable commodities could not be transported beyond 50 miles without spoilage and health risks.

Some rail transportation in iced freight cars for items such as peaches was pioneered after the Civil War. However, it was not until nearly a century later, in the 1940s, that mechanical refrigeration began to be available for truck trailers. The story is that a Minneapolis trucking executive was playing golf with a friend and was complaining about his large losses from attempting to ship chickens during hot weather. From this discussion Joseph Numero created the first manufacturer of refrigerated trailers, U.S. Thermo.

World War II spurred the technological advances that have resulted in modern, refrigerated trucking capabilities that allow millions of tons of all types of foods and medical supplies to be shipped safely and nationally and globally every day. The science and process of cold chain logistics has developed along with the technology to ensure such transportation meets rigorous standards and regulations.

In fact, many of society’s most important medicines and vaccines could not be manufactured and transported without this secure cold chain logistics capability. From manufacture to use by doctors, many of these scientific wonders require a constant temperature be maintained in a very narrow range.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to create a 100 percent risk-free cold chain supply line for food, medicines, or other refrigerated products. When any aspect of these procedures for safe transportation of food items breaks down, the results are often costly in the form of human illness and monetary losses.

For example, the Scientific Technologies Corporation notes in one of its reports that poor transportation and storage practices are responsible for frequent problems and losses in its vaccination programs.

Industry observers often quote numerous examples where maintaining the cold chain breaks down. The head of distribution food safety and quality assurance  for U.S. Foodservice’s, Frank Ferko, notes, “We sometimes find that refrigerated seafood product shipped by vendors has been above 41 °F in the mid- to high-40 °F range for too long.” He goes on to note this make choosing the right transport firm a critical operational issue.

Striking a Balance between Technology and Process

One of the insidious aspects of cold chain failures is that the risks caused by temperature variations may go unnoticed without the proper monitoring technology. Customers and end-users may be satisfied with a product or foodstuff without readily knowing the source of the problem. Overtime, however, the damages can be real and go beyond health risks.

The potential dangers that arise with using the wrong or inexperienced carrier include:

  • Loss of brand value
  • Decrease in product security and value
  • Short and long-term market share losses

The good news is that modern technology, integrated with the proper management processes, makes it much easier to prevent such problems, and to spot them when they do occur. Some difficulties in maintaining the cold chain are inevitable, such as when a refrigerated truck breaks down. The essential task is having the data to know whether the products on that truck have or have not remained within required temperature ranges.

The Importance of Proven and Reliable Carriers

The advances in cold chain technology have created a readily discernible divide between those carriers that have the ability to provide full process control of the cold chain and those that operate in a higher-risk environment.

Companies such as Road Scholar Transport operate at the leading edge of these technologies, incorporating a steady stream of new tools and capabilities to add security to all aspects of refrigerated transport.

Any knowledgeable manufacturer or producer today will demand that their preferred carrier be on top of these new advances, including such invaluable tools as:

  • High security and temperature control services
  • Reefer GPS
  • Electronic Door Seals
  • Remote Temperature Monitoring

These technologies allow monitoring and reporting on transported items from the shipping door to the delivery portal. Any deviations in the cold chain are easily detected and management is provided with the opportunity to take the appropriate actions to protect the shipment and the end user.

For example, the systems implemented and technical tools imbedded in each trailer by the team at Road Scholar ensure that temperature variances are closely monitored during the entire shipment. Variances generate alerts immediately, allowing proactive steps to protect the integrity of the affected product.

These systems also provide full temperature ranges (from as low as -22°F to as high as

89°F) to tailor each shipment to the specific requirements of the products being shipped. This helps avoid the situation where refrigerated items are combines with frozen products, a common cost-saving step taken by inexperienced or unqualified carriers.

The Role of Management

In the final analysis, however, efficient and safe cold chain logistics is about a holistic approach to fully integrating technology with effective management philosophies, processes and practices.

Refrigerated transportation by a modern carrier allows a producer to attain a new level of assurance and peace of mind concerning their products. While this is a driving force between the continued growth in the transportation of refrigerated goods, it has also created a new class of carrier.

The simple fact is that many smaller trucking and freight companies are unable to deliver the needed level of security for today’s cold chain requirements. The sophisticated planning and capabilities available from those carriers such as Road Scholar who have made the necessary investment take the science and service of refrigerated transportation to a new level.

If your firm utilizes refrigerated trucking as part of your cold chain logistics, you understand there is no room for compromise at any point in that chain. You can call on the professionals at Road Scholar Transport to discuss your specific needs in the areas of:

  • LTL Freight
  • Truckload Service
  • Temperature Controlled Shipping
  • High Security Shipments

We will provide you with a full quote that addresses your origin and destination, along with any special services, utilizing our Service Map Geo-Quote or a custom quote based on your specifications. Call today.