Perishable goods, such as meat, fish or frozen vegetables must be maintained at a certain temperature. Often, this becomes a difficult task for all supply chain partners (3PLs, transporters, storage facilities, etc.) that interact with such time-sensitive products.
Therefore, they need to understand how to properly manage them. A cold chain is a supply chain that handles perishable products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, seafood and so on. These perishable products need to be maintained at a specific temperature so that their quality and integrity remain the same. There are different groups of products of which some must be refrigerated, some frozen, and some deep frozen. If the right temperature isn’t maintained, there’s a high risk of spoilage and financial loss.
What is cold chain logistics?
Cold chain logistics is defined as a set of activities to handle and transport goods, safely from the manufacturer or supplier to the consumers. The more transportation modes involved in the journey between the main supplier and end consumer, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the temperature. In the case of international shipping, the products go through several cold storage facilities and need to be reloaded several times. The only way to avoid temperature fluctuations is to keep these products in a sealed container. The biggest complications in the cold chain logistics process are caused by the packaging, storage, and shipping stages.
Cold chain packaging
The process of keeping an optimal temperature starts with picking the right type of packaging, container, and refrigeration method. All these are chosen based on multiple factors such as:
- the type of shipment,
- the temperature and humidity levels required,
- the size of the cargo,
- the transit duration,
- the outside temperature (climate changes), and so on.
For each type of shipment that is temperature-sensitive, a different packaging is used. For example, seafood is transported in skin packs, with a slim film of the transparent plastic cover. Chilled packaging helps maintain an ambient, chilled, or frozen temperature if used with an appropriate coolant. Most cold chain logistics companies use this type of packaging for perishable products that require low temperatures.
Cold storage facilities
Warehousing is a very complex process that requires multiple stages from the storage of products, their consolidation and deconsolidation to loading and unloading. Specialized warehouses often offer services such as blast freezing, pre-cooling and so on.
At this point, it is essential to choose the most convenient facilities that use certain practices when handling perishable products and also have proper climate control both for loading and storage areas.
Cold chain transportation and tracking
As we discussed earlier, the transportation of cold goods needs to be done properly, by using specialized equipment known as reefers or freezers. These are specially designed trucks, railcars, and cargo ships. The temperature is not the only thing that must be kept under control. Humidity is another factor that needs to be considered, so these types of equipment need to be able to do that as well.
Finally, a crucial process for any supply chain is cargo tracking. Tracking shipments while these are still in transit is always important, but when speaking of cold chain shipments, monitoring becomes essential. Shipping companies, carriers, and stores alike, want to track and monitor data for quality assurance and performance evaluation.