Cold Chain Safety and Compliance

Cold chain compliance: 4 key issues that QA managers face and how to fix them

Practical tips for Quality Assurance Managers in cold chain organisations

Supply chains that work with temperature-sensitive products have to comply with a raft of Australian cold chain compliance guidelines and regulations. These include maintaining safe temperature ranges, managing appropriate handling processes, and proper storage before, during and after transportation, to name just a few. 

With QA teams juggling so many tasks, there is a raft of common issues that can damage the integrity of the cold chain, either directly or indirectly.

So what does it take to become cold chain compliant, and how can QA managers mitigate some of the risks in their day to day role?

The issue: Lack of visibility and data

Robust data and documentation is the foundation of a compliant cold chain, yet maintaining the transparency of data across all aspects of the chain is still a daily challenge for many QA Managers. 

In an article for Food Logistics Magazine, Tom Madrecki, vice president of supply chain and logistics at the Consumer Brands Association, stated that data transparency is experiencing increased demand as businesses push for more visibility both from their suppliers, transport partners and customers. 

“The biggest trend across all aspects of supply chain and cold chain compliance is the demand for increased end-to-end visibility and transparency that extends to temperature controls and traceability throughout the supply chain, both of which have clear implications for food safety and compliance with regulations,” said Tom. 

As technology gets more sophisticated, cold chain management teams are likely to see greater integration of digital tools and systems to help plan, maintain and deliver products efficiently, offering a wholistic data-driven view of the entire process. 

The fix: Always use the mechanical advantage if it’s available: if there’s a tool, system, app, software or training course that will help you build a stronger and leaner supply chain, then use it! Likewise, stay on top of the maintenance of your HVAC&R system using appropriate monitoring software, apps and tools. Have a contingency plan in place to manage unforeseen breaches in the cold chain, such as a vehicle breakdown. 

The issue: Procedural failures in cold chain compliance

Sometimes it’s not the physical cooling system that fails, but the operational procedures of cold chain companies. 

These procedures can include things like insufficient demand planning leading to overstocking and wastage. On the flip side, planning that fails to take into account peak demand periods can result in not enough stock, creating an urgency in demand that leads to an environment where mistakes can be made and shortcuts provide a quick fix. 

Ultimately, the cold chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so planning for the efficient flow of product in and out of your organisation is the key to a robust business. Whilst sudden changes in consumer demand can’t always be planned for, diligent research, assessment and forecasting will help to smooth out potential peaks and troughs in supply. 

Proper planning allows the space for compliance practices to be given the time and attention they deserve. Issues in demand planning require QA Managers to work closely with supply chain and purchasing teams to understand each other’s perspective, resulting in better outcomes for everyone involved. 

The fix: Follow the ‘measure twice, cut once’ rule and take extra care in the production planning stages. Bottleneck situations encourage unnecessary urgency and can lead to compliance issues, so tempering your team’s workload will have a direct impact on QA compliance. 

The issue: Incorrect or unsuitable packing, stacking and wrapping

Product packaging varies considerably across different food categories, but it is all designed to allow for the most efficient and compact transport from paddock to plate. 

However, an often overlooked aspect of packaging in food transportation is how the arrangement and stacking of product in a container or on a truck can have an effect on its quality. Good airflow around products is important in many cases, and when this aspect of temperature management is not given the necessary attention, it can have a marked effect on cold chain compliance. 

Packing and stacking boxes or pallets in the correct manner for your produce can hamper the efficiency of an otherwise good refrigeration system. The AFCCC has an excellent explainer presentation on the influence that packaging, packing, stacking and wrapping can have on refrigerated food products

The fix: When there is no airflow, there is no refrigeration, so it’s important to really dig into how to pack, stack and wrap your products for transport to ensure they remain in optimum condition. 

The issue: Not encouraging a culture of quality amongst your team 

Research from Gartner states that in supply chain businesses, “employees make 85% more mistakes, on average, in companies with weak cultures of quality than in those with strong cultures of quality.”

This is where Quality Assurance managers can leverage their relationships with HR leaders to strive for a culture that has a heavy focus on quality at all levels of the business, from the boardroom to the loading dock. 

Not only does this have excellent benefits for the individual, giving employees opportunities for training and recognition, but it has a knock-on effect throughout the organisation leading to better compliance with QA and QC procedures. 

The fix: compliance stems from repeatable, standardised processes, but it ultimately hinges on how well team members carry out their roles on a day to day basis. Providing opportunities for training in cold chain specific skills can boost employee happiness and confidence as well as provide an uplift in compliance metrics. 

Build your team’s skills and boost compliance metrics.

For more information on Thermometers and the Cold Chain Practitioner take a look at our online training course for cold chain professionals.