Cold Chain Logistics…More Complicated that you think

Ever wonder how our food, vaccines or other products stay at a constant and cool temperature? Is it regulated by a government agency and checked regularly? Let’s explore how Cold Chain Logistics work and why it’s so important.

What does Cold Chair Mean?   

According to Wikipedia “Cold chains are common in the food and pharmaceutical industries and also in some chemical shipments. One common temperature range for a cold chain in pharmaceutical industries is 2 to 8 °C (36 to 46 °F). but the specific temperature (and time at temperature) tolerances depend on the actual product being shipped. Unique to fresh produce cargoes, the cold chain requires to additionally maintain product specific environment parameters which include air quality levels (carbon dioxide, oxygen, humidity and others), which makes this the most complicated cold chain to operate.”

How do Cold Chain Logistics work?

Items are shipped, sometimes across the United States or even Globally. It’s a constant struggle to make sure items are kept temperature controlled at all times. In order for food, vaccines or other items to be transported a “chain” is set up. The chain we are referring to is how the items are going to be shipped from the manufacturer to the consumer while keeping the temperatures regulated. Think of all the temperature variations globally….Extreme Cold in Alaska, Heat in Las Vegas, Humidity in the South, rain, ice, flooding, third world countries…it’s not an easy task. There are numerous companies that specialize in this kind of Cold Chain Logistics. However, in order to make the Cold Chain work effectively, it takes collaboration and cooperation from distributors, trucking companies, Airports, Refrigeration products, monitoring of temperatures. It’s not surprising that one third of all food that is transported globally is lost to spoilage each year due to inadequate temperature controls. Think of how much food that is and how many people that one third could feed.

How Cold Chains Regulated to ensure proper transit Temperatures

It probably does not surprise anyone that the FDA has numerous regulations regarding the transit of Food and Vaccines. According to the FDA “When setting up a cold chain management system that complies with federal regulations, you’ll need to create or obtain detailed records of stability data, geographical data (including climatic zones), shipping and storage durations at each point in the journey, and contingency procedures for delays, out-of-specification conditions or other unexpected events.”

Why is there so much contamination and waste still happening in Cold Chain Management

Equipment failures, improper reporting, human error are all major factors of Cold Chain Management breakdown.  If the refrigeration on a plane or truck fails and there is no built-in monitoring or alarm system to alert the personnel to these failure, these products arrive spoiled and unusable. Maybe someone forgot to turn the refrigeration equipment to the proper level for the product. There are so many things that can and do go wrong in transporting food and pharmaceuticals.

Things are improving though. Many companies are testing new technologies that can immediately alert personnel if a refrigerated unit goes bad in transit or if the temperature falls below acceptable levels. Some are even testing technologies where personnel are notified but the unit itself has a built-in computer that will auto adjust the temperature. All of these new technologies should help decrease food spoilage and vaccines that are unusable.