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6 Traceability Tips for Cold Storage

Traceability in the cold chain is essential to ensuring that products maintain their quality throughout storage and transport. Here’s how supply chain managers can improve visibility in the warehouse and beyond.

From chilling, to storage, to transportation, every step of the cold chain is critical to providing goods to customers safely and reliably. Here we focus on traceability, the chain of custody for goods from supplier to customer. Traceability plays a pivotal role in all supply chain management, but is especially crucial in cold storage, due to the perishable nature of the goods handled. 

Across the world, an average of 13.8 percent of food is lost to spoilage from post-harvest to distribution. In North America and Europe, this number is even higher at 15.7 percent, while Central and Southern Asia top the list at 20.7 percent. [1] Much of this loss is due to poor or inadequately-managed temperature control within the warehouse or in-transit.

Traceability offers the opportunity to minimize food loss and waste by closely monitoring every step of the cold chain. Maintaining visibility ensures products are of a high quality when they arrive at their destination. Further, many regions have set regulations requiring businesses to provide a high level of traceability for their products in order to ensure consumer safety. [2]

Traceability has therefore become an essential part of quality control. If you can’t provide evidence that products have maintained proper temperature and handling within requested timeframes that can cause compliance and safety issues. Recalls for food or other cold-storage items also require tight traceability to narrow the locus of contaminations, spoilage, or other issues. 

In recent years, consumer preferences have shifted toward local, perishable products [3] that need to be transported quickly and safely. Also, consumers value humane food production practices, which corresponds to a growing public interest in cold supply chain sustainability. Traceability lends confidence to consumers in regards to where their products come from and how they were transported, giving them greater confidence in purchases. 

In today’s conditions where consumers want to follow online purchases all the way to their doorstep, can we rely on manual data logging for the cold chain? The need for supply chain systems that create and automate end-to-end tracking and transparency reduce complexity, and more importantly, ensure accuracy. Here are some tips and tools for cold supply chain systems and technologies that help preserve food while streamlining operations.

Invest in a Cold Chain Ready WMS

The need for transparency from supplier to warehouse to seller to consumer has grown rapidly over the last few years, and even tighter traceability is ahead of us. This is a good thing. We need to ensure food quality and mitigate the repercussions of contamination and spoilage. The key is a reliable record of the chain of custody supported by systems that offer information in real time. 

A warehouse management system, for example, offers inventory management and visibility tools critical to monitoring material flow in the four walls. From quality inspections, to producing records and documenting cold storage data such as freezer temperatures, a WMS can flag non-compliance issues to mitigate product loss or selling of spoiled goods. 

WMS flexibility can be a great asset in cold supply chain management. For example, if changes to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) require changes to processes, reporting, or temperature control in the warehouse, a WMS that can quickly pivot via configuration, not programming helps maintain compliance with minimal disruption to operations. 

Embrace Route Optimization and Geofencing Technology

How can businesses ensure shipments make it to their destinations on time? Transportation management solutions including route optimization and geofencing technology help supply chain managers find the fastest possible routes for transporting products. This helps ensure that products don’t lose their freshness on an unnecessarily long trip. The tech also lets supply chain managers see if and when a delivery left its correct route to better identify what exactly caused a delay. The data consumed by the WMS provides visibility for every step in the process for customers.

Choose Technology that Can Withstand Cold Temperatures

Standard retail tracking technology is not designed to be used in cold temperatures like those necessary for cold storage, meaning that it may cease functioning unexpectedly. Mobile computing batteries stop releasing energy, LCD screens freeze up, and barcode readers stop working if condensation or frost covers the scanner. When this happens, workers need to switch to manual data entry to ensure traceability, which can significantly reduce efficiency. To prevent this from happening, supply chain managers need to ensure they are utilizing devices designed specifically to withstand cold temperatures.

Use RFID Tracking Tags to Demonstrate Product Credibility

RFID tags make it easier to trace products through the entire supply chain and demonstrate reliability to consumers. They are also useful for providing data to regulatory authorities who need to ensure that products are adhering to government protocols on food safety. RFID tags make the tracing process easier and more efficient: when a product is scanned, the information is collected and stored in a WMS that tracks its complete journey.

Implement Automated Warehouse Temperature Control Systems

This likely goes without saying: the best way to ensure that food consistently stays fresh while in storage in a temperature-controlled warehouse is to use an automated temperature control system. This system allows supply chain managers to set temperatures within a predetermined range. An automated temperature control system enables workers to monitor temperature fluctuations and get alerts if there is a shift in temperature or if the preset temperature range is exceeded. A warehouse temperature control system can help reduce damages and financial losses associated with problems in the cold chain.

Provide Traceability Information to Customers and Stakeholders

Lastly, don’t forget about providing traceability insights to the customer. If possible, supply chain managers should offer web portals that allow customers to access inventory and track the journeys of their products. With a growing focus on locally-sourced foods, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, it’s important that supply chain managers are able to prove to consumers that they are purchasing products that meet their standards. That proof comes from “farm to fork” traceability. The entire journey from production, to storage, to transportation, to delivery. 

By following these tips, businesses can improve their efficiency and ensure that their products remain of high quality and undamaged at every stage of the supply chain. When it comes to traceability in the cold chain, the right integrated warehouse and transportation management solutions are integral to collecting accurate, up-to-date information and maintaining customer satisfaction. 

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