Now more than ever, we need reliable supply chains for essential goods, especially food-related products. Global supply chains for the food and beverage industry are crucial for getting food and essential goods into the hands of consumers. Moreover, supply chain procedures and operations ensure that food and beverages are transported safely, hygienically, and at the right temperatures.
In order to transport perishable products, supply chain operators collect a variety of different types of environmental data including the temperature, humidity, and even differential pressure of the items’ surroundings. A lack of oversight of the temperature of the environment that food and beverages are stored in when transported can lead to dangerous public health concerns including food-borne illness, contamination, and disease. Not only are these dangers damaging to consumers, they also represent an area of legal liability for food and beverage companies.
The expiration or contamination of food-related products can be very costly for companies in the industry, as can recalls of products that are dangerous to consumers. There are also legal and governmental regulations that pertain to food transport that these companies must follow in order to keep consumers safe. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in steep fines and legal implications for food and beverage companies.
Let’s look at how food and beverage companies today use a variety of technologies, data loggers, equipment, and refrigeration systems to protect consumers.
The Structure of Food and Beverage Supply Chains
One of the simplest factors that companies consider when setting up their supply chain infrastructure is geography. In the past, food-related supply chains were based closer to the consumers to whom perishable food products were shipped. The process of globalization changed that significantly, with many companies opting for supply chains that transported goods over very long distances in order to reduce production costs.
While this has led to negative economic consequences for some domestic food producers and farmers, it has also reduced costs for consumers. Fed by products shipped through the global supply chain, North American consumers can now eat strawberries in January and winter squash in August. However, in our globalized supply chains, it is vital for companies to monitor environmental data related to goods at each step of the transportation process.
The Covid-19 global pandemic has put additional pressure on frontline food supply workers, and increased the need for the integration of digital technologies in order to make getting food to consumers more efficient.
Digital transformation has also made a variety of tools available to consumers such as smartphones, tablets, and software applications that allow them to have more control over how their products go from retail establishment to their homes. These technologies have also given importers of goods from abroad more power to communicate their delivery specifications.
Consumers and importers can specify in real time how they would like their products to be delivered and know which products are in higher demand. This sort of business intelligence data and analytics can then be considered by suppliers and shipping companies. The data can even be integrated into machine learning or artificial intelligence software to develop predictive models and analytics that identify future demand for products.
Digitization has also meant that shipping companies can have more precise and effective tools for ensuring the quality of food and beverages they are transporting at each step in the supply chain. One important part of that process is in facilitating the traceability of food and beverage products.
Traceability and Ensuring Food Safety
Traceability is extremely important for the food and beverage industry because most outbreaks of food-borne illness have historically originated at the supply chain level. By making products traceable throughout their journey through the supply chain, companies and regulators can determine the original plant, facility, or vehicle from which the outbreak occurred. This allows them to recall potentially contaminated products and put an end to the outbreak before it spreads.
Due to these concerns, several regulations exist pertaining to the traceability of products. One of the best-known regulations is called the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate. The mandate requires shippers to track data related to products using electronic logging devices, often referred to as data loggers.
As seen here, not only do data loggers collect and record information related to the traceability of products, they can also record environmental data including the temperature, humidity, and storage security of the products. This data can then be referenced in the case of a food-borne illness outbreak or quality assurance concerns.
For example, if an outbreak of food-borne illnesses occurs at a location, these data loggers could be used to track where the food traveled from before arrival. Each storage facility in that process could then be investigated.
If the temperature or humidity conditions were determined to be inadequate at one of these storage facilities according to the data logs, the company could then investigate what other products had passed through those facilities. Finally, the company could issue a recall if necessary, and improve their procedures and processes to avoid a similar occurrence in the future.
As you can see, data loggers are especially important for the food and beverage industry since they have the potential to save lives.
Companies should also consider that different countries have different sorts of ELD mandates. Canada’s log formatting requirements, for example, are different from those in the US, which is a fact that companies must consider when speaking to their ELD provider.
The Importance of the Cold Chain
Another reason why data loggers are so important for food and beverage companies is that many food-related products must be refrigerated during shipment to retail sites. This refrigerated supply chain, often referred to as the cold chain, can be costly to implement and vulnerable to possible supply chain disruptions. The cold chain also introduces some additional regulatory hurdles, since the FDA requires that hourly data logs of refrigeration and temperatures throughout the supply chain be kept by companies.
Obviously, the refrigeration systems used in the cold chain will vary depending on the required temperature of different products and whether the products are frozen. Refrigeration equipment includes refrigerated plants, refrigerated trucks, food processing cooling systems, heat reclaim centers, air handling equipment, and many other technologies.
Often, food and beverage companies will work with third-party logistics providers that have experience ensuring supply chain procedures are compliant with federal and state regulations. These companies can make sure that food is kept in refrigerated storage containers, even while being handled or moved from one facility or vehicle to another within the cold chain. They can also help record data logs within the proper format that is accepted by regulators.
In conclusion, data logging and data analysis are an important part of ensuring public health, food safety, and quality assurance in the food and beverage industry. Through digitization, companies have found modern and efficient tools to monitor environmental data throughout food products’ journey through the supply chain to ensure proper temperature and storage conditions. These technologies and associated regulations are an important step forward in protecting consumers.