The cold supply chain, often simply referred to as the cold chain, is the network of equipment and logistics solutions that allows goods and materials to be transported and stored in an unbroken chain of temperature-controlled environments. The cold chain is especially important in 2021 because it is a key element to distributing viable COVID-19 vaccines.
The cold chain is used for much more than vaccines, though. It is a critical part of many regulated industries such as the food and beverage, pharma, healthcare, aerospace, and manufacturing industries. All these industries use the cold chain to transport and store goods to ensure the materials and products maintain their safety and effectiveness when used by the consumer.
Each industry that employs the cold chain has different needs and uses for it so each goes about using it in different ways. Some best practices, however, are relevant regardless of what industry is using the cold chain and why they are using it. Here are six universal cold chain best practices for 2021.
Understand why the cold chain is necessary
The cold chain is required for different reasons in different industries. In the food and beverage industry, it is used to keep products fresh longer and prevent food-borne illness. The pharmaceutical industry employs it so that drugs and vaccines stay safe and effective. In manufacturing and aerospace, the cold chain can maintain the quality and structural integrity of a product.
No matter the specific reasons, when you are involved with the cold chain, you need to know what biological, chemical, or physical aspects of the product you are protecting with a cold environment. You also must know the precise temperature range that must be maintained to support these reasons. The last thing you should know is the consequences– either of product loss, risk, or compliance violations – that come with not properly maintaining the environment.
Pack the sensitive material correctly
Packing goods moved through the cold chain is another important best practice. Companies can pack products in several ways so they stay at a specified temperature throughout transport and storage. Depending on what you are moving, different packing methods may be applicable. Using the right method will ensure the required environment is maintained. On the flip side, companies won’t spend more on packaging than is necessary.
It is best to use packaging that can be controlled throughout the process. This includes employing portable refrigeration units, freezers, and deep-freezers among other tools. You can also opt for a variety of thermo-insulated packaging that will keep the goods cold during the time they are in transit.
Make sure the cold chain stays cold
Ensuring that products stay cold during their journey through the cold chain comes down to two major issues: how you cool the product and how well you monitor temperatures in the chain. With insulated packaging, you can use different cooling solutions such as ice, dry ice, or different types of synthetic phase change materials (PCMs). Controllable units include different types of refrigerators and freezers depending on your needs. Some deep-freezers can reach temps as low as -135 degrees Celsius.
Picking the solution that will keep your product within the correct temperature range for the correct amount of time is a key best practice. The other best practice that deals with keeping the cold chain cold is to make use of data loggers to monitor the environmental conditions throughout the chain.
Stay organized when it comes to data integrity
Digital data loggers are the industry standard when it comes to cold chain monitoring. This guide from Dickson has more detail on the different applications and types of data loggers to monitor transport and storage conditions. These days, many data loggers are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) which means they are internet-connected and capable of sharing their data with a cloud-based remote monitoring system.
Using data loggers is the best way to stay organized with the data you receive from these sensors. Instead of hiring staff to manually read, record, and compare data from each sensor, all data can be transmitted to a central location for proper and ease of cataloging and analysis.
Always know the latest regulations
The cold chain is primarily utilized by the industries listed above because they are required to do so by law or some other sort of governing body. These regulations exist to keep the consumer safe when using potentially dangerous products or products that could fail in some way if not manufactured under proper conditions . These regulations are important not only for safety but also because not meeting these standards could mean you have to destroy the product and/or face lawsuits or massive fines for lack of compliance.
Every industry, and sometimes every segment within an industry, will face its own regulatory and compliance guidelines. These regulations are always changed and updated to reflect the latest knowledge about the industry. Staying abreast of all the latest rules and regulations will help you stay compliant in your specific industry.
Utilize the latest technology
Technology and the cold chain started working together almost 100 years ago when inventor Frederick McKinley Jones designed the first air-cooling unit to go on a truck. Cold chain technology has come a long way since then, but it continues to revolutionize this supply chain in 2021. Using improvements to this technology whenever they become available is another best practice to follow.
We’ve mentioned just a few of the latest technologies in the cold chain world. This includes IoT data loggers, cloud-based remote monitoring systems, deep-freezers, and synthetic PCMs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another tool being used to great effect in 2021. AI is helping analyze the tons of data that comes from the cold chain to create more efficient and effective processes. With AI in the cold chain, loss and risk are being better mitigated than ever.
The cold chain will vary quite a bit by product and industry but some best practices remain the same. In any situation, companies using the cold chain should understand why the cold chain is necessary, correctly pack sensitive material, keep the cold chain cold, stay organized about data integrity, know the latest regulations, and quickly incorporate the latest relevant technology into the process. These best practices will help ensure the cold chain works to the best of its ability.
Source: London Post