Cold chain monitoring




Monitoring the temperature in a trailer or container of fresh produce is not new. Data loggers do it all the time. Yet we still see 5-20% wastage of fresh fruit and vegetables along the cold supply chain. Perhaps, what is needed is a more comprehensive, pro-active cold chain monitoring program.
Such a program must include three indispensable features. First, it must be able to provide information to help access the quality of the produce. The best method for doing this is to monitor temperature and relative humidity (RH) from within the produce carton instead of just relying on measurement refrigeration air temperature as is common practice. Second, a successful program must be able to monitor these parameters through all links in the supply chain: in the pack house, during transit, at the distribution center and even on the supermarket shelf. And finally the system must be able to alert in REAL TIME when temperature or RH is out of its preset safe range.


REAL TIME monitoring
Realizing that no such monitoring system existed, StePac LA Ltd., a veteran manufacturer of modified atmosphere/modified humidity (MA/MH) packaging, developed Xsense™, a REAL TIME produce quality monitoring system. "Actually we brought together recent advances in RFID technology, GPS, smart sensors, wireless networks and sophisticated data analysis to develop a pallet-level, cold chain management program," says Asaf Shachnai, Director of Sales and Marketing at StePac. "Xsense™ goes far beyond conventional data logger solutions to offer a comprehensive program that helps packers, distributors and retailers realize substantial savings."
Because Xsense™ active radio frequency (RF) sensor units are both disposable and affordable, they can be placed in multiple pallets throughout the truck trailer or cold storage facility. The use of multiple sensor units is important because temperature and humidity may vary greatly within the shipment confines, affecting the produce in each pallet differently. Xsense™ is unique because it more closely monitors actual produce temperature than do data loggers. It is also one of the few systems that monitor relative humidity, which is a crucial parameter that determines the rate of dehydration and weight loss.

In the packing house
Xsense monitoring begins in the pack house during palletization; an Xsenser™ (the disposable Xsense sensor unit) is placed in one carton in each pallet designated for monitoring. Typically this will be a carton in the center of the pallet where temperatures tend to be the highest. The amount of Xsensers used in each shipment of produce varies according to users' needs. While full resolution (an Xsenser in each pallet) provides maximum visibility, many Xsense users find that placing Xsensers 25 or 50 percent of pallets in a shipment provides enough information to map the temperature and make knowledgeable decisions.
From the moment the Xsensers are activated, they begin recording and transmitting data. This means that pre-cooling before shipment can be managed much more efficiently. "By simply glancing at a computer screen, where Xsense data is displayed after being transmitted via a secure web-based application, pack house managers know when pallets are sufficiently cooled, saving both energy and money," explains Shachnai. "And in those instances when pallets must be loaded before they are completely cooled, warmer pallets can be placed in the coolest sections of the trailer."

On the road

Once the Xsense monitored pallets are on the road, the System verifies that atmospheric conditions (temp. and RH) in the produce cartons are within the preset temperature and RH limits (which varies for each produce type and is configurable in the Xsense System). When these conditions are not met, real time alerts are sent to logistics managers and supply chain stake holders via mobile phone, email or paging devices. Drivers can then be notified in time to take corrective or compensative actions. As Shachnai points out, "if the refrigeration unit has been inadvertently turned off, the logistics or trading manager can be alerted as to the whereabouts of the vehicle (GPS tracking is included in the Xsense System) and its cooling conditions so that the unit can be turned back on.”

FEFO Management
But more importantly, the information made available by Xsense™ helps produce receivers make crucial decisions about continued routing of arriving pallets. With vital information about the condition of produce in each pallet viewable onscreen at any time, DC managers can now implement First Expired First Out (FEFO) management instead of the more common First In First Out (FIFO) system. For example, when the Xsense temperature graphs show that certain pallets have arrived at above their preset temp. limits, they can be sent for additional cooling or given special priority for transport to the retail points of sale. Xsense data analysis is also crucial in helping identify trouble spots along the supply chain. "The point is that the information provided by the Xsense System enables managers to act and take decisions in order to salvage at risk produce. Xsense is a vital tool for reducing waste and delivering higher quality produce to supermarket shelves," adds Shachnai.

StePac, leaders in modified atmoshpere packaging (MAP)

Since 1995 StePac has been broadening its Xtend® line of modified atmosphere/modified humidity (MA/MH) packaging solutions. Engineered specifically for each fruit and vegetable, Xtend packaging ensures that the correct balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide is maintained in order to preserve produce freshness during storage and transportation. In addition, humidity levels are precisely regulated inside the bag to allow excess moisture to escape alleviating moisture related problems, such as rotting, decay and re-growth. At the same time, enough moisture is maintained to prevent shriveling and weight loss.
Over the years StePac has developed packaging solutions for over 50 different fresh produce items.

A lot less perishable

Unlike data loggers, which record the temperature in the trailer and make the information available at a later date, the Xsense System contains all the components required of a truly effective cold chain management program. Xsense provides data directly related to the quality of the produce (monitoring from within the produce carton). It monitors through all links in the supply chain, from pack house to supermarket. And most importantly, it makes information available in REAL TIME when it is needed the most. This is a significant difference enabling category and cold chain logistics managers to become pro-active, rather than reactive, in regards to reducing shrink (wastage) and increasing operation efficiencies.
By identifying an unmet market need and building on its accumulated knowledge in post-harvest science and logistics, StePac has been able to develop and offer comprehensive cold chain management tools that help increase supply chain efficiency and thus, profitability. When implemented together, Xsense and Xtend help suppliers deliver fresher, more attractive produce to retail shelves.