As an expert in cold chain monitoring, we here at Sensire get asked all kinds of questions about the cold chain, temperature monitoring and other things related to the issue. Inspired by this, we decided to put together a small series of Frequently Asked Question -blogs for those of you who may find this useful. This time we’ll go over some very basic questions. (Second part of this FAQ series focuses on the food cold chain and HACCP. It can be found here.)
What is cold chain?
Cold chain is a specialized supply chain where the products being transported and stored need to be kept within a pre-approved cool temperature to ensure that their quality remains high. The term combines a range of controlled temperatures, always according to the product. Some products that require a cold chain approach include foodstuffs such as meat and vegetables, many pharmaceuticals as well as biological products ranging from donated blood to clinical samples and gene-based drugs.
What is the importance of an unbroken cold chain?
It depends on the product in question, but for produce and pharmaceuticals the main reason for cold chain is to ensure safety to the end customer.
What are the effects of a broken cold chain?
If the cold chain gets broken on the way from manufacturer/producer to the customer, certain processes will start that cause the product to degrade and may cause harm to the customer. For example, millions of cases of gastroenteritis annually are caused by bacteria from improperly stored food.
Pharmaceuticals can lose potency or become unsafe to use and analyzing incorrectly transported clinical samples can give faulty results, leading to wrong decisions concerning patient care.
When a given product cannot be sold or otherwise used, it becomes waste. Waste in itself of course affects everyone in the form of higher customer prices but the wasted natural resources that go into both the production and transportation of the wasted products have also a globally significant impact.
What is the best action to take when the cold chain has been broken?
Of course, if you notice the break in time, the first thing is to try and correct whatever has gone wrong. If this can be done, you should then estimate to what degree has the break affected the product in question. Is the quality such that it can still be used for the purpose it is meant for? If not, can it be salvaged for other use? For example, can you sell degraded foodstuffs as feed to salvage your losses?
Only when nothing else can be done should you throw away the product, always following whatever regulation applies to the disposal of that particular product.
How is the cold chain maintained?
Maintaining the cold chain means ensuring that the product stays within an acceptable temperature range at all times. Therefore, cold chain maintenance needs to consider particularly those segments in the chain where something regularly changes. This typically includes all occasions where the product changes hands, such as loading and unloading in transportation hubs or manufacturer’s facility. Maintaining an unbroken cold chain therefore needs to include all operators who have contact with the product.
A temperature monitoring system can help in verifying that cold chain has been maintained for the whole duration required.
Why is a temperature monitoring system important?
Ensuring product quality and safety requires that the cold chain has remained unbroken, and the only way to verify that is to show proof. A temperature monitoring system that can record continuously is the only way to know for certain that the products have remained within acceptable temperature limits. A good monitoring system can also help spot any problematic links in the chain.
What kind of equipment is used to monitor temperature
This depends on where exactly in the cold chain you want to measure temperature from. Wireless sensors are used for both stationary storage monitoring as well as mobile monitoring in transportation. These sensors can be modified with various measuring heads for specific temperature measuring uses. In food production facilities and kitchens, you can also find mobile probes connected to smart devices that can be used to carry out temperature measurements as a part of HACCP tasks.
Both fixed and mobile devices should be periodically calibrated to ensure correct results.
What are the advantages of remote temperature monitoring?
There are several advantages that can be realized through remote monitoring:
- Verifying the quality and condition of the product
- Saving money by decreasing wasted product
- Decreased labor demands when manual data entries can be eliminated
- Timely alerts on temperature exception allow for corrective measures and rerouting
- Inspecting longer data periods helps recognize problem hotspots and generates insights for operational and process development.
How to set up a temperature monitoring system?
First thing to do is to analyze what exactly you want to monitor, how often, how accurately etc. Based on this initial analysis, you should come up with a plan for
- what kind of devices you will need
- how many of them will you need
- where will they be placed
- how will you access the results
You should then test the planned system to find out whether it is sufficient for your requirements.
Remember that the monitoring system should be separate from the system that controls the temperature in order to provide a “failsafe”.
Of course, the easiest way is to let a professional do it for you. We have extensive foreknowledge on implementation and available technology, so we can help you with conducting the process described above. We will also provide you with installation and instructions; maintenance; and customer support as an integral element of our service offering.
Does a temperature data logger used in a cold chain need humidity?
This depends on what kind of things you want to monitor. There are some pharmaceutical products that you want to keep at a specified humidity range. Excessive humidity can also affect the packaging of many products, which can render them unsellable.
The ultimate decision on whether you need to monitor humidity or not lies with you, but if you decide that you need it, we provide multi-operational sensors that can measure both temperature and humidity, as well as other required parameters.
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