Australian Food Cold Chain Council chair, Mark Mitchell, outlines the steps needed to reduce food loss and wastage in the food supply chain, with a specific focus on transport and shipping.
The solution to this problem is simple. We need to implement product temperature monitoring and control across the global food supply chain and cold chains. This is something the industry fails to do universally although the principle really is basic.
When food is transported at the right temperature, the chances of that food being lost or wasted are dramatically decreased, or even eliminated.
Much of the food that is transmitted through the cold chain and eventually disposed of is considered consumer waste.
That analysis is short-sighted and fails to recognise that chilled food that has been subject to temperature abuse has significantly reduced shelf life and becomes inedible much sooner than expected.
We have all bought the strawberry that turns to mush quickly upon bringing them home and putting them in the refrigerator.
Everyone in the cold food chain has a responsibility to honour the promise food growers and manufacturers make regarding food shelf life.
Currently the cold chain is made up of a series of events and critical control points – where food changes ownership typically at a loading dock or similar facility.
Industry as we know it today does very little to connect this chain together. Aggressive commercial interests and unrealistic market forces continue to keep the chain broken and separated into nothing but a series of refrigerated activities.
In this environment, temperature abuse occurs, and food suffers reduced life and sometimes sudden death.
A compliant cold chain on the other hand, operates with complete co-operation across the critical control points. It recognises the twin responsibilities of the deliverer and receiver, and it proves its product temperature from the start to end.
We need to build our practice so everyone recognises there is shared responsibility at critical control points, where product temperatures are shared and there is transparency about quality and food history.
This approach embeds responsibility and safety, and is distinctly different from current practice where temperature data is hidden and selfish commercial considerations dominate.
Depending on the type of cold chain achieving this aim is straightforward.
There are two type of cold chains, and this first one is the closed loop cold chain where equipment and hardware – particular temperature sensors and loggers - can be readily returning through reverse logistics. This model is typical of many domestic cold chains.
On the other hand, open systems -“the end to end’ model - is typical of international shipping and is the hardest to control and monitor temperature mainly due to the non-returning and variable equipment used.
In both systems and regardless of the difficulty there is a need to better monitor and control temperature. Product temperature monitoring must be continuous.
In a robust system a probe is inserted in the product - located at the centre or back of the trailer/container -and data is automatically available to everyone via a printed docket if offline, or an online report from a web portal.
Smart product probes are here which deliver accurate product temperatures very efficiently without the necessity to interfere with packaging - they do save time and money.
If probing is not possible, then journey temperature mapping is second best. This should be done with a system independent of the refrigeration system, preferably automatic and available as a report online or offline.
But in the end, whichever method is used - temperature must be proven! Once the onus of proof is required, behaviour changes, responsibility increases, and value is recognised.
As soon as the requirement to verify, document and share temperature data is in place, temperature abuse decreases dramatically reducing food loss and waste from the supply chain and by consumers.