A vast majority of temperature control issues in the cold chain are attributable to people on the job, according to a leading researcher. Around 90 percent of cold chain quality problems are attributable to human error, says JP Emond, Ph.D., COO of The Illuminate Group. While the analysis supporting this statistic is derived from the pharmaceutical cold chain, Emond, based on his extensive experience, feels the number for fresh produce is “probably very similar.” And when fresh produce is subjected to temperature control breaches, shelf life can be seriously compromised.
Emond notes that most people want to do the right thing concerning temperature control, but without adequate understanding, they may make the wrong decision. For this reason, the provision of necessary training, ongoing supervision and dialogue are crucial. Employees should consistently follow cold chain SOPs. Additionally, they benefit from understanding the quality assurance implications of failing to hold products in the correct temperature zone.
Here are several common cold chain mistakes – are your employees making these errors?
Thinking that colder is better.
At the distribution center, Emond cites the example of employees storing products sensitive to low temperatures such as bell peppers or cucumbers in the cold (2 degrees C) (35 degrees F) room rather than in the warmer (10 degrees C) (50 degrees F) room, thinking that “colder is better.” Such mistakes commonly result in chill damage to certain products.
Displaying refrigerated items in non-refrigerated displays.
Another typical mistake Emond observes is the display of strawberries in non-refrigerated displays at the store. While berries chilled to 2 degrees C may last for five days, an unrefrigerated display in a 20 to 25 degrees C environment will barely last until closing.
Relying on visual inspection over temperature recorder.
Human error can take place from one end of the supply chain to the other. During harvest, every hour of delay in removing field heat can result in a day less of shelf life. At the warehouse, time-pressed quality inspectors may rely on a visual inspection and skip checking the temperature recorder. (Everything looks great, so why bother?) Of course, if load temperature has been compromised during the trip, shelf life will be reduced.
Setting pallets in ambient conditions.
Other temperature control errors include reefer setting errors or forgetting to refuel the reefers of storage trailers. In some facilities, inexperienced personnel may not be aware of temperature buildup at higher elevations in the warehouse. By placing pallets in the top storage rack positions, they may inadvertently expose produce to out-of-range conditions. At retail, circumstances can result in pallets sitting for periods of time in ambient conditions while pallets are repositioned to make room in the cold room. Berries start to degrade at just 36 degrees F.
Lack of a proper training program.
Having a robust training program is critical as a starting point, as is following it up with active supervisory support. An ongoing dialogue can help ensure that any temperature control mistakes are corrected promptly, and any barriers to compliance are eliminated. Sometimes, breaches result when employees feel they lack other options, for instance if the cooler is full or there isn’t space available for refrigerated display. Working through such hurdles can help create innovative solutions going forward.
Best practices include offering necessary training, and providing active supervision and the dialogue needed to keep your team at peak performance when it comes to your cold chain. Just ask your berries.