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How to improve cold-storage supply-chain management

Supply chain that deals with cold storage can be challenging to work with, Jeff Battle, vice president of transportation services for OHL, shares nuggets on how to improve management thereof. 

temp 001Effective management of cold storage in the supply chain is necessary to ensure product integrity. Image credit: The Business Journals

Operating a world-class cold supply chain is about information management. To gain insight into how food companies can attain the necessary best-in-class performance in transporting temperature-sensitive products and materials, we asked several third-party logistics providers for their advice.

Also read: OHL is now Geodis

Carrier relationships

  • Pay careful attention to carrier selection. The best practice, says Brent Witte, president of Witte Bros. Exchange, involves working with a small, carefully selected pool of carriers that meet stringent criteria, like on-time performance, equipment reliability, and communication.
  • It’s important to measure carrier performance. Once you select the best carriers, you want to monitor their performance while they’re hauling your temperature-sensitive products. Carriers that know they’re being rated will remain in top shape. More importantly, you’re likely to see improved service to your customer.
  • It’s also important to know when to get expert advice. Getting a third-party logistics firm (3PL) provider’s input on your cold storage supply chain can pay off in important ways. Inviting an expert to the table means having someone who knows how to research carrier selection, carrier capabilities, and performance, says OHL’s Battle. It means you can off-load development of routing guides, negotiating lane pricing, and even executing the day-to-day management of your cold supply chain. It also means that you’re free to focus on doing what you do best.

Audits and procedures

  • It’s always wise to have clear procedures in place. Good business practices follow standard operating procedures to protect temperature-sensitive products. That means being clear about required trailer temperatures, pre-cooling before loading, and following food-grade inspection processes. Be sure that procedures are precise and ensure that everyone understands them.
  • Conduct regular audits. It’s not enough to have procedures in place; you must know that they’re being followed. Self-audits are a good place to start. These monthly check-ups should verify employee training and practices, ensure that you’re compliant with food industry requirements for pest control, warehouse sanitation, and security. You should also review and verify supporting documentation, says Frank Ahern, director of safety, health, and environment for Burris Logistics.
  • Surprise audits of any third-party warehouses you’re using is another best practice. “We get audited by our larger customers every year,” says Rick Schlapman, national sales manager of refrigerated warehousing for WOW Logistics.
  • Audits also include reviews of trailer inspection reports, temperature monitors, and random inspections of particular facilities. “This is standard,” says Schlapman. “Sometimes customers ask to see temperature histories for a particular cooler or a computer history showing temperature histories over a few months.”


  • When it comes to storage operations, ensure certification of cold-storage facilities and equipment. Heightened consumer awareness is creating an increased demand for assurances about food safety. An independent third-party firm should regularly certify any facilities storing temperature-sensitive products your company uses to verify that they are clean and that their daily operations comply with the appropriate food safety requirements.
  • Don’t overlook a chance to warm up to technology. There’s no need to have an employee don a coat, hat, and gloves to check that cold storage temperatures are accurate. Keeping tabs on freezer and refrigerator temperatures can be accomplished easily with technical solutions.

A few degrees of temperature difference during loading or unloading is all it takes to ruin certain items.

  • Continuous temperature monitoring systems are available that can keep track of changes in refrigerated storage temperatures, providing alerts to employees whenever something seems amiss. Some systems provide alerts using email or by sending text messages to cell phone or pagers.
  • A temperature monitoring system allows you to decide when you want to be alerted about temperature changes, which can provide your employees with enough advance notice to remedy a problem situation.
  • Some systems can provide access to data over the Internet, while others can provide the documentation you may need to meet any compliance or audit requirements. Ahern of Burris Logistics notes that it’s also important to use certified thermometers to track temperatures, as well as to be sure that these devices are calibrated on a regular basis.
  • Total Quality Logistics (TQL), cites the challenges of cold storage as enough reason to have personnel available to handle both major and minor emergencies around the clock.


  • Another tip is to shoot for improved loading and unloading. In many cases, the loading dock is cited as the weakest link in the cold storage supply chain. Some experts think that the loading and receiving practices of warehouse providers pose the biggest threat to temperature-sensitive items. “The temperature of the docks, coupled with the time spent on the dock, can affect the integrity of the product,” says Witte. “A clear practice to minimise the amount of time the product is kept on the dock and not in the controlled temperature of the storage area is essential.”
  • Witte also recommends that the loading dock’s temperature should always be checked against customer requirements prior to loading or unloading.
  • It’s also helpful to pre-cool trailers before loading. Putting a temperature-sensitive product into a trailer that’s not pre-cooled is a recipe for disaster. Prior to loading a trailer, it should be checked to ensure that the refrigeration unit is running so that it’s pre-cooled to the appropriate temperature. Trailer temperatures can be regularly monitored using trailer temperature recorders. If you have any doubts about a trailer’s performance, ask to see a temperature history.
  • Take the time to check product temperatures as well. Running random temperature checks on shipments can tell you whether a product was at the agreed upon temperature the entire time it was shipped, says WOW Logistics’ Schlapman. He recommends looking for tell-tale signs of temperature changes, such as condensation on a stretch-wrapped product.

Schlapman also sees a benefit in using product temperature monitors.

Finally, make sure to manage supply chain information. Operating a world-class cold supply chain is about information management, emphasises OHL’s Battle. “The flow of information about freight is just as important as the movement of freight,” he says. “Understanding when, where, and how your shipments are moving is integral to managing a best-in-class cold supply chain.”

Source: Food Logistics



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