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Keeping the Cold Chain Unbroken with Four Simple Steps

Ensuring the successful transport of a perishable load

Closeup of mixed fruits and vegetables

For food, maintaining proper temperature throughout the supply chain is essential to product quality, compliance, and profitability. Sensitech® has worked in the food industry for over 20 years, providing a comprehensive array of services and products to help ensure product quality worldwide. Our global reach and proven innovation enable us to meet virtually any customer need.

Cold chain is an industry term used to describe the distribution and storage of temperature sensitive (perishable) products through the supply chain. The process of delivering a product from the farm to fork is long and complex, involving many steps, which can be thought of as a chain. Each link in this chain is critical to transporting products successfully. A break in the cold chain can shorten shelf life, lessen quality and contribute to foodborne illnesses.

For every refrigerated commodity that is transported by road, rail, air and sea, there is an ideal temperature that will yield the longest shelf life and highest quality. Due to the fact that products with different ideal temperatures are routinely shipped or stored together, it is common that temperature-sensitive products get exposed to variation from their ideal temperatures as they travel through the cold chain.

It is essential to understand that each and every product is unique and can be affected by other products, environmental factors, and even itself. Certain products are prone to odor absorption from other products or the transportation vessel. Additionally, some products can be very sensitive to ethylene, a plant hormone involved in ripening, while others can be ethylene producers. It is therefore imperative to understand which is which and handle them accordingly. When considering produce, it is important to keep in mind that the product is still alive and capable of respiring, and, in some circumstances, produces heat that can lead to a host of quality defects.

To an extent, the vast majority of all reactions occurring within a food product are slowed by reducing temperature. This includes decay, respiration, ripening, oxidation, color change, and many other chemical reactions. Often, temperatures below ideal can be just as harmful as temperatures above the ideal. For these reasons, careful temperature management is critical.

It is crucial to follow strict transportation guidelines and demand high quality transportation equipment.

There are four simple steps to ensuring that a load of perishables is transported successfully:

  1. The product must be loaded at the proper temperature. This is because transport refrigeration units are designed to maintain product temperature and not further cool.
  2. Prior to loading, it is important that the trailer or container be prepared properly. It should be precooled with the correct set-point and refrigeration mode selected. An inspection should be conducted to ensure the trailer or container is clean and free of damage. Damage to the walls, door seals, and insulation breakdown in older trailers and containers can allow heat to penetrate.
  3. The trailer or container should be loaded properly. Pallets should be loaded in an off-wall fashion so that no product is contacting the walls. When pallets are loaded against the walls, product can warm due to the conduction of heat through the walls. An improperly loaded trailer, or a container with product stacked too high or against the walls, will not allow for proper airflow. Debris can also block normal airflow under the product, causing irregular airflow.
  4. If all of the above steps are carried out properly, the fourth step – maintaining the temperature during transport – should be accomplished. Due to the highly variable nature of distribution temperatures, Sensitech recommends that every shipment contain a TempTale® monitor to ensure that the temperature has been maintained during transit.

No matter what your product quality challenge is, Sensitech has solutions that help you optimize your supply chain to enhance the quality and appeal of your products. Contact one of our Sensitech experts today.

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