The Cold Chain Process Explained

09/07/2021

The Cold Chain Process Explained

How does the cold chain process differ from your typical supply chain? The cold chain is a variation of your standard supply chain. It involves the movement of refrigerated or frozen products from temperatures of two degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit) all the way down to negative 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit). The cold chain involves industries such as food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.

WHAT IS THE COLD CHAIN PROCESS?

The cold chain process is a logistics management process for perishable products that need refrigerated temperatures to maintain quality and safety from end to end. It involves performing a chain of tasks to prepare, store, and transport products in the cold supply chain. 

Logistical planning and management protect the integrity of cold chain shipments. This involves using proper packaging, proper transportation equipment, carefully chosen transportation routes, perfect timing, and visibility throughout to ensure that what’s expected is what happens. The cold chain process is best done by using technology and data at every point of the process.

WHY IS THE COLD CHAIN IMPORTANT?

The cold chain ensures perishable products are safe, of high quality, or potency at the point of consumption or use. Failure to keep those products at correct temperatures results in degradation, discoloring, bruising, or microbial growth. When you have quality cold chain products, you’ll have satisfied customers, meaning greater demand, and the protection of public health. 

Additionally, cold chain providers contribute a great deal to the economy and workforce. According to GCCA, approximately $6.1 billion is generated by the refrigerated warehousing industry annually. Not to mention, the North American refrigerated warehousing industry employs more than 62,774 people annually on a full-time basis, with 92 percent being permanent employees versus contract or temporary.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ELEMENTS IN THE COLD CHAIN?

Storage

The cold chain starts with the storage of the product at a refrigerated facility. If manufacturers of cold chain products don’t have storage equipment needed to keep their products regulated, they’ll have to outsource their cold chain operations to a partner who can provide the proper equipment. 

Common cold storage equipment and facilities include refrigerated containers, cold rooms, chillers, cold boxes, blast freezers, and vaccine carriers.

Packaging

Temperature-controlled products need correct packaging to maintain their quality. Proper packaging helps reduce the risk of product contamination and ensures energy-efficient storage along the cold chain. 

The most common refrigerants used in packaging are dry ice, gel packs, gel bricks, phase change material (PCM), and EPS panels (expanded polystyrene or Styrofoam).

Monitoring

Tracking certain information for specific cold chain products is a necessity. This includes temperatures and other environmental parameters, like humidity levels. Without monitoring, suboptimal conditions can happen and damage the quality of the product. 

Cold chain monitoring often refers to the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) or other sensor software. These monitoring systems can detect temperature problems, keep track of all cold chain products on one platform, and improve predictive maintenance through the integration of sensor data with supply chain management software, like a transportation management system (TMS)

Delivery

Cold chain management also involves the delivery of shipments. Delivery is based upon the end-user consumers’ preferred methods for receiving cold deliveries. 

WHY IS AN EFFICIENT COLD CHAIN PROCESS IMPORTANT?

Unlike shipping non-perishable products such as furniture, interruptions in the cold chain can result in damage to the quality of the product, making it unusable. An efficient cold chain process uses monitoring and reduces the amount of handling from end to end. 

The cold chain industry has standardized temperature zones classified to maintain the quality of products. These classifications are: 

Banana

Bananas and other tropical fruits like oranges, pineapples, or even potatoes have a temperature range of 12 degrees to 14 degrees Celsius (53 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit). This helps control ripening during transport. 

Pharmaceutical

Most pharmaceutical products need temperatures between two and eight degrees Celsius (35 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit).

Chill

This classification is between two and four degrees Celsius (35 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit) for many other fruits, vegetables, and fresh meat.

Frozen

This temperature range is between minus 10 to minus 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit) for frozen meat, cakes, and bread.

Deep Frozen

Seafood, ice cream, and other frozen foods need colder temperatures at minus 25 to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 77 to minus 86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Ultra-Low

This is a new and growing temperature range often for pharmaceutical products that need temperatures reaching minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 158 degrees Fahrenheit), like certain vaccines

WHAT ARE SOME INDUSTRIES THAT USE COLD CHAIN?

Food and Beverage

Controlled temperatures are needed for transporting food and beverage products such as milk, produce, or meat. Interruptions in the cold chain can lead to spoilage or bacteria or mold growth. As mentioned above, many fruits like bananas ripen during their shipment.

Pharmaceutical

Many pharmaceutical products need temperature control. This includes products like vaccines, medication, or biologicals, like blood or plasma. Spoilage of these products can mean a loss in efficacy and can become a public health hazard if not caught.

Chemical

Temperature control is critical when it comes to some hazardous chemicals. Specifically, ones that can be susceptible to reactions due to heat release. If heat escapes from a chemical good that requires it to remain at a certain temperature, it can cause a spark, flame, or explosion to occur, not only damaging the product but potentially harming others.

Oil and Gas

This sector uses explosion-proof refrigerated containers on oil rigs, oil tankers, and offshore locations.

Military

The U.S. military must control the temperature of its medical supplies, which often travel long, hard-to-reach areas. Because of this, the cold chain process can become more complicated when handling products for the military.

WORK WITH AN EXPERIENCED PROVIDER

Not all temperature-controlled products are the same. Each product is unique and requires specialized solutions throughout the cold chain. Many cold chain manufacturers are turning to third-party logistics companies (3PLs) to handle their complex challenges in the cold chain process. For your cold chain to be successful, you need to be sure to work with a provider who understands your industry, regulations, and product requirements.

Luckily, you don’t have to look very far to find one. Here at Trinity, we have more than 40 years of experience in specialized industries such as cold chain. 

Contact us today to find your customized logistics solution for your cold chain process.

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Author: Christine Morris