Cold Chain Safety and Compliance

What constitutes a cold chain breach?

How to prevent food waste with better temperature management

The single best way to preserve food and reduce waste is to ensure your business is operating as part of a compliant cold chain. This means having a good handle on how to store, pack and transport chilled food, frozen food and other temperature-sensitive products such as pharmaceuticals. But how do you know if there has been a breach in the cold chain – and more importantly how do you prevent it from happening in your business?

The complex cold chain

The cold chain starts with production and ends at the consumer, passing through many different phases along the way.

All of these links in the cold chain intersect at what is known as control points. Each control point needs to ensure the integrity of the product as it passes from one link in the chain to the next.

In the case of fresh food, for example, a product has to travel from the farm to the market, be transported to a processing facility, then on to a distribution hub, before it reaches the supermarket shelves. Finally, after this complex journey, the product arrives at the consumer, ideally in perfect condition.

However, this isn’t always the case.

How do cold chain breaches happen?

Temperatures can easily fluctuate at picking and packing stages as the product is carried via forklift to a loading dock, or as it sits idle on the dock waiting to be loaded. Then there’s packing time as the truck, tanker or container is filled before the product is finally on its way to the next destination.

Any significant fluctuation in the cold chain conditions at these control points is likely to result in a loss of food quality. This can range from minor cosmetic flaws to serious health hazards if sensitive products such as milk are subjected to a cold chain breach.

supermarket freezer cabinet

What to do if there has been a cold chain breach

If there has been a failure in the cold chain due to procedural errors, faulty equipment, incorrect thermometer calibration or any other circumstances, it’s important to take action immediately.

All cold chain businesses will generally have documented procedures on how to manage a breach, which typically involves notifying others in the chain, recording what happened and noting the environmental conditions.

Guidelines such as the Australian Cold Chain Guidelines laid out by the Australian Food and Grocery Council, and initiatives like the AFCCC’s Cold Food Codes make it simple for food manufacturers, processors, refrigerated transport companies and other associated businesses to set the right cold chain conditions for their product.

Using these guidelines, businesses can manage a cold chain breach by following the manufacturer’s step by step process to prevent further deterioration of the product – or in many cases, disposing of spoiled product.

Why it matters: the cost of food waste in Australia

The cost of wasting huge volumes of food runs into the billions in Australia, with a quarter of Australia’s annual production of fruit and vegetables never eaten. This loss alone accounts for almost two million tonnes of otherwise edible food, affecting everyone from the grower to the consumer and having a marked effect on our economy.

This issue is so significant that the Morrison Government has unveiled a new $4 million body with the sole focus of reducing the nation’s food waste by 2030.

However, in many cases a cold chain breach that results in food waste can be easily avoided, simply by understanding how to properly manage temperature and take accurate thermometer readings.

peas in a pod

How to maintain a cold chain

Possibly the simplest and cheapest way to maintain an effective cold chain is to effectively manage and maintain temperature at the source, the entire way through the product’s journey. This ultimately hinges on all practitioners in the chain knowing how to manage temperature and use thermometers properly.

Working with your suppliers and customers to build an efficient process of temperature measurement, monitoring, recording and verification will go a long way to ensuring your product remains at optimum freshness. And, with all teams using measurement devices appropriately, food waste can be significantly reduced.

The key to success: understanding thermometers and accurately measuring temperature

Whilst many businesses already have clearly defined and documented procedures at critical control points, there is often a disconnect between this process and the people working at the front lines of cold chain management.

This can stem from a lack of adequate experience or training in choosing, handling and using thermometers: arguably the most critical tool in helping to maintain a cold chain.

Whilst many cold chain practitioners use thermometers as part of their everyday role, the nuances of understanding which thermometer to choose, where exactly to insert a probe and other fine details can easily be missed.

Whilst this seems like a minor issue, the difference between measuring the temperature of a tray of meat in the centre versus at the edge can be enough to constitute a cold chain breach, if this process is not performed correctly.

This is where cold chain training can really make a difference to your bottom line.

Industry reports such as the 2020 study of waste in the cold food chain and opportunities for improvement recommends ‘essential training to resolve weak links in the cold chain’.

This study, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and Refrigerants Australia also recommends improvements in the cold chain to ensure temperature measuring and recording devices are fit for purpose, accurate and properly calibrated.

Building on these guidelines, the AFCCC recommends supporting your team by providing effective training in the use of heat and temperature, thermometers and calibration. Courses such as Thermometers and the Cold Chain Practitioner have been designed to provide practical skills to those on the front lines of the cold chain, helping to promote better practices and reduce food waste.

Upskill your team to reduce food waste in your business.

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