The food processing industry spends a lot of effort in measuring and monitoring cold chain temperatures, be it during storage of raw materials, storage of finished product prior to shipping or storage in the distribution facilities. When a manufacturer has time and temperature under control, quality and safety issues don’t figure in until after the product has left the manufacturer’s control. The issue of time/temperature control during transportation has been discussed often during the past few years. Some of the thinking has been centered on considering this a critical factor, and in the mid-1990s, FDA and USDA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking related to time/temperature control during transportation.
One challenge is ensuring that you are paying attention to the monitoring devices that you have in place. Many companies use circular recorders or thermometers in their cold rooms, but thermometers by themselves don’t do anything—somebody has to be paying attention to the instrument and the readings and be able to make adjustments, if necessary. Just because you’ve walked into the refrigerated unit and it seems cold does not mean that it is operating at the appropriate temperature for quality control.
There also are some challenges with respect to measuring time and temperature during transportation. One product is more sensitive with respect to quality, and perhaps even safety, issues during transportation, and as such, the company has the need for that kind of routine time/temperature information, while the other company feels they have control over the operation given their specific product. Many of the major food companies have their own trucks, so they do have very good control during transportation, whereas others are using shipping companies and may feel that they need a little more control than the shipper may offer.
One of the biggest challenges with regard to time and temperature control during shipment involves less-than-full loads, or LTLs, where there can be different products on board that may require different temperatures for quality reasons. Also, products are being dropped off at different locations, which means the truck gets opened and closed more often to unload partial loads and then continue on to the next stop. The essential nature of LTL shipments raises many questions: If you’re carrying a full truck of one company’s product and it is being dropped at multiple locations, where do you monitor temperature in the load? Where is the worst-case temperature? Is it the product closest to the back door because the doors are being opened frequently, or is it the product that is staying on the truck for longer periods of time? How do you monitor to get the data that’s reflective of each of the locations where you’ve dropped product? I don’t think these are insurmountable problems, but they are difficult to address given all the variables involved.
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