The basic definition of a cold chain is, a “temperature controlled supply chain.” With regards to produce, the cold chain refers to an uninterrupted series of refrigerated production, storage and distribution activities, along with associated equipment and logistics, which maintain a desired low-temperature range.

As we alluded to in our post on Trucking’ Role in the Shelf Life of Temperature Sensitive Products, truck drivers play a significant role in the cold chain. But, there are various cold chain logistics problems that a driver can be faced with that can affect their ability to protect the integrity of products. Below, we are reviewing what we think are the 4 most coming cold chain logistics problems for drivers, and giving some tips on how they can solve them.

1. Lack of Documentation

Documenting product storage conditions is of great importance in the cold chain. This is important for every step, but even more so during in-transit. Sometimes, downloading conventional temperature recording devices (or “data loggers”) and documenting the storage conditions is often forgotten or just plain neglected. If this vital step is neglected, the carrier and the receiver will not be able to verify product safety upon arrival. This can potentially leave all parties subject to claims and/or additional charges. Compliance with temperature instructions can only be confirmed by documenting how this compliance is achieved. There are several real-time temperature monitoring devices available the market that automatically transmit this essential information to interested parties. However, real-time devices are often not available or provided by the shipper. If this is the case, it is in the best interest of the driver to make sure that some type of temperature recorder is on the truck (many customers now have this as a requirement). Furthermore, a driver must make sure that the receiver accesses the temperature monitoring device right away and downloads its information.

2. Inadequate Packaging and/or Issues with Product Quality

In the produce industry, preparation of product may be done either in the field or at the packing house. This involves using the FSMA procedures for proper cleaning, sanitizing, and sorting according to quality and size, and any product treatments that are approved and necessary prior to packaging into transportation containers.

Packaging protects the produce from transportation injury and contamination. There are several methods for packaging in the produce industry, and the type of packaging selected depends on the product type and what will work best to enclose the product and provide the best means of handling. In addition, packing and packaging methods can influence air flow rates around commodities, thereby affecting temperature and relative humidity management of produce while in transit.

As for loading, produce must be stacked to enable proper air circulation. Stacking of loads must also incorporate consideration for minimizing damage to product that can happen while in transit.

While the type of packaging and sometimes even loading (when a driver does not have access to the loading dock) are not the direct responsibility of the carrier, a driver does have a responsibility to monitor what is being loaded in their trailer, and to report on any issues that they see. If the packaging does not look adequate or appropriate for the type of product being hauled, a driver must contact their dispatcher and transportation provider immediately to report this – and where possible, take photos of the issues. If a driver does not have access to the loading dock to witness packaging and loading of product into their trailer, they must record “shipper load and count” on the bill of lading (BOL). This will protect them from any packaging, product quality, or damage issues that may arise upon delivery.

3. Interrupted Temperature and Climate Control

A top issue in cold chain logistics is temperature variances, which can affect the quality and safety of produce. There are times when a driver is loading product that has come directly out of the field on a warm day, or when they must make 5 deliveries on the same truck which means continually opening and closing the trailer doors, exposing the product to ambient temperatures that are higher than the temperature set inside the refrigerated trailer.  Under these types of conditions, the refrigeration unit cannot maintain climate control. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that their trailer is pre-cooled and set to continuous setting. A driver can also ask if the product has been pre-cooled prior to loading, and take pulp temperatures of the product at pickup. If higher temperatures are present (higher than what is requested by the customer on the BOL), the driver must contact their dispatcher and transportation provider to report the issue. If they do not have access to the loading dock, they must record “shipper load and count” on the BOL. This will protect them from any temperature issues that may arise upon delivery. As for multiple deliveries, the driver must make sure to continue to have the refrigerated unit set to continuous, and to document the pulp temperatures upon each delivery.

4. Delays

Delays can affect the cold chain by producing temperature issues that are mentioned above, or by reducing the shelf life of a product because it is on a truck for longer than it should be. Delays are common during loading, at borders, and on delivery inspections.

Drivers can protect themselves from any cold chain issues due to delays. One key piece of advice we give every driver is to check in with their transportation provider as soon as they arrive at the pickup or delivery location. This time is then recorded, and any delays due loading or unloading can be tracked. In addition, drivers should check in when they arrive at the MX/US or US/CAN borders, because oftentimes, there can be delays at these points due to random inspections, customs paperwork issues, and volume.

The process for addressing common cold chain logistics problems that truckers face is often simple. Most of the time, it boils down to documentation and communication. A driver who continues to use these two best practices, and is trained in safety and compliance, with expertise in material handling, storage and federal regulations will set themselves up for success for their portion of the cold chain, and will be a sought after partner for any transportation provider.

The 4 Most Common Cold Chain Logistics Problems Truckers Face and Tips for Solving Them was last modified: by