Internet service tracks temperature throughout the cold chain

May 1, 2002
WHILE food safety and security threats loom as potential problems for growers, carriers, and distributors, the ability to take a real-time look at the

WHILE food safety and security threats loom as potential problems for growers, carriers, and distributors, the ability to take a real-time look at the food chain from packing shed to supermarket takes on added urgency. Temperature recordings have long been available, starting with the paper disc system from Partlow developed for rail and marine shipping. These recorders were permanently mounted to the trailer or container.

Next came portable battery-powered recorders that could be placed in product cartons at shipping and retrieved at delivery. These early temperature monitors made an ink-on-paper record. Later developments included electronic recordings that dumped data into a computer. At the same time, refrigeration unit manufacturers and aftermarket recording developers produced systems that could store months of data. The continuing drawback to these systems was the necessity of having physical contact with the trailer or recorder for data extraction. This left receivers with essentially three options: never seeing temperature data for shipments that opened questions about temperature maintenance; locating the data logger and physically retrieving data; or receiving data from the shipper or carrier days or weeks after filing a request. In these scenarios, data is least available when it could be of the most use.

Following the development of satellite communications for trucks, refrigeration unit manufacturers produced data loggers that could by accessed remotely. However, data mostly was still historical rather than real-time. The goal has been to produce a recording system that allows data to be consolidated, monitored, and analyzed from a single, secure Internet site. That global view of the food chain now is available using a combination of existing technology along with patented software from Freshloc Technologies that connects in-transit data loggers to desktop computers through an Internet connection.

Freshloc is an application service provider in Dallas, Texas. It provides temperature monitoring using wireless sensors placed in food packaging. About the size of a half dollar coin, the sensor can stay with product from shipment to warehousing through retail delivery to provide a continuous temperature and humidity record. Freshloc software also can extract data from other data loggers and place it in a database that can be viewed from any location on a secure web site. This is particularly useful to receivers that require a temperature history of shipments before accepting delivery.

Real-time access to transit temperature data can help wholesalers and distributors extend product shelf live and substantiate product quality to retail customers, says Alan Camerik Heller, chief executive of Freshloc. Real-time data also aids motor carriers by helping predict problems with equipment, cutting fuel costs, and speeding delivery.

Maintaining the correct temperature from end to end in the supply chain is the primary requirement for high quality, says Douglas K Foster, Freshloc president. Growers, shippers, carriers, and distributors that can prove the continuity of the cold chain have a powerful advantage in a highly competitive marketplace, he says. Motor carriers benefit from fewer cargo claims, and shippers and distributors are protected from food safety questions by having a record of product protection from beginning to end in the cold chain.

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