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Cool ways to chill

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CONGRATUALTIONS! Your company has won a major contract supplying product to a lucrative market overseas. All those months of hard work have paid off.

What a shame then should your product fail on first delivery to reach the consignee in pristine condition.

In the cutthroat world of manufacturing it’s not something you can afford; ensuring product integrity from the factory to the consignee is critical.

Cold Chain Centre (CCC) principal consultant Robbie Davis says communication and collaboration along the supply chain with all cold chain members, and effective monitoring of the cold chain is the key to avoiding the above scenario.

“Understanding each specific cold chain from production to market allows prompt identification of possible problem areas and the implementation of contingency plans before cold chain problems occur,” Davis told FOOD Magazine.

However, adds Davis, technology plays an equally important part in the cold chain.

Refrigeration technology is one area that has advanced considerably in recent years - especially in road transport, making cold storage during transit more reliable than ever before.

The production of new refrigeration units has been particularly advantageous to the perishable food industry.

Some new units allow product to be cooled and/or isolated from other product in a load that either does not need to be cooled or may not be suitable in a consolidated load under normal transport conditions.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are also making the tracking of real time cold storage data possible.

The ability to be able to receive real time data, says Davis, instead of waiting on data return helps to identify and correct any cold storage problems quickly and effectively. This reduces potential losses that previously may have been caused through data delay.

Food and beverage manufacturers can also benefit from innovative temperature monitoring and logging technologies.

Improvement in the monitoring of cold storage facilities using automatic real-time wireless temperature monitors are able to transmit information directly to an individual’s computer screen.

Monitoring of actual product temperature has also become more efficient.

Loggers in varying sizes that can be read without physical connection to readers have been developed. Information can be downloaded through packaging materials directly into iPOD devices.

David Wedlake of Victoria Cold Storage agrees on the importance of monitoring temperature when moving perishable goods.

“I recommend that manufactures insist on interstate refrigerated transport companies using temperature monitors i.e. data loggers to record the internal carrying temperature while transporting frozen loads interstate,” Wedlake told FOOD Magazine.

In particular, Wedlake highlights a trend toward free-flow frozen products.

“Free flow frozen is when you have a 10kg carton of, say, strawberries and each strawberry has been frozen separately in a process that allows the individual strawberry to be loose inside the carton. This enables a person to open the carton and grasp a handful of strawberries,” Wedlake explained.

“Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries all come to me in this manner and are very susceptible to thawing because of the nature of the product. If picked, cleaned, packed and then frozen; this process would result in a 10kg block of strawberries to which you would have to break in order to get the product. This results in obvious quality conformance issues for sale.”

Free flow frozen is good for the end user, says Wedlake, but it requires closer monitoring of temperature control specifically on arrival and at despatch - for transport companies delivering from manufacturer, or to purchaser. “The smaller the individual unit the more likely that thawing may occur should anything less than totally dedicated refrigeration be maintained. This has obvious ramifications for small fruits like strawberries, blackberries,” Wedlake said.

Manufacturers are demanding whole of cold chain solutions not only focusing on one area of a supply chain, but on all areas, from point of manufacture/harvest to point of sale, according to Davis. This maintains the cold chain in all areas of supply to optimise product quality and shelf life at out-turn.

“There is also a real requirement for ‘user-friendly’ technology that will be compliant with product quality procedures,” Davis said.

Cold storage

In cold storage, says Wedlake, some of the latest solutions to maintaining integrity of product include remote temperature monitoring of chambers and automated alarm systems when problems arise which reduces down time should a chamber require maintenance.

“The main thing in cold storage that has changed is the size of some of the facilities,” Wedlake told FOOD Magazine.

“Oxford Cold Storage, for example, recently constructed some massive cold storage chambers amounting to between 10,000 and 20,000 pallet capacity. Ten to 15 years ago this was unheard of, but now it seems to be a regular occurrence.

“I guess that has something to do with large multi-national companies consolidating their own product with one company and the company building these massive chambers to satisfy that company only, hence the Simplot, Nestle & McCain’s examples at Oxford are all in different massive chambers.”

Cold Chain Centre

The recently established national CCC, based in Adelaide, South Australia promotes best practice cold chain initiatives and has two major programs available: the Australian Logistics Assured (ALA) program, and the Food Export Logistics Training (FELT) program.

The ALA program is a system of integrated performance standards, covering all members of the export cold chain.

Through development of full chain performance standards including time and temperature, and a comprehensive monitoring program to verify compliance, the ALA system provides for reliable supply chains delivering perishable products with integrity.

The CCC is the coordinator for delivery of the program; a national voluntary industry accredited logistics management system.

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