A two-part series

How to maintain the cold chain during cross-border shipments

The global perishable cold chain is made up of a network of stakeholders who play essential roles in preserving quality and safety of fresh produce. The task of shipping perishable product is fraught with challenges. “However, maintaining consistent holding temperatures and proper quality assurance (QA) processes is even more difficult when shipments cross borders into foreign countries,” says Mayra Shaw with Emerson’s Cold Chain Digital Solutions division.

Unlike in-country (or domestic) perishable shipments — where the origin of the producer ships to retailers within the same country — transporting (or exporting) goods across borders introduces a variety of new considerations and potential quality hazards. Every country has specific border and customs procedures that are driven by their own unique food safety regulations — which oftentimes differ from the country of origin.

International shipments utilize multiple modes of transportation — including over the road (OTR) trucking, and air and marine refrigerated container shipments — and can last from days to weeks and even months. Often, these extended cold chain journeys pass through higher-risk zones or unfamiliar regions that can make shipments more prone to delays, theft, tampering and associated complications.

With consumer safety, customer satisfaction and brand reputations on the line, the stakes are high for each link in the global perishable cold chain. The greatest potential risks include:

  • Temperature excursions which can increase the potential for food quality and safety issues, lead to product degradation, and shorten shelf lives.
  • Rejected shipments and late deliveries which can result in complex disputes, missed service level agreements (SLAs) and lost business.
  • Shipment tampering or theft which can lead to a complete loss of product and its associated opportunity costs, including production, shipping and sales.

“All of these can significantly cut into profit margins,” commented Shaw. Minimizing the frequency and severity of these issues should be goals shared by all stakeholders. “As experts in helping global cold chain stakeholders protect their perishable shipments, we have developed a suite of tools, services and industry best practices that address cross-border challenges.” In this article, timeliness and security will be discussed.

Maintain on-time deliveries
“Timeliness is essential to cold chain quality,” mentioned Shaw. “Meeting promised delivery schedules is especially important for cross-border, international shipments with lengthy cold chain journeys in order to stay within the optimal quality and/or safety lifespan of the perishable product.”

Regardless of shipment duration, mode of transportation or location, maintaining proper temperatures throughout is imperative to product preservation. Even if held in proper temperatures, perishables have limited shelf lives and may begin to deteriorate past their designated delivery period. “Although meeting SLAs should be the top priority, stakeholders need to be ready to make decisions in real time to preserve their perishable cargo and protect profits.”

ETA challenges can be mitigated by providing real-time visibility to the in-transit shipment location and temperature status. “Stakeholders need a robust, connected cargo tracking and monitoring technological infrastructure comprised of temperature and location tracking devices in each container or temperature zone. Devices should be capable of providing connectivity to mobile networks, including 4G/5G, and fall back to 2G when these networks are not available.”

Connected software portals and mobile apps with live mapping dashboards are essential tools for maintaining awareness of shipper location and temperature conditions. Real-time alert capabilities keep grower/shippers, 3PLs and retailers informed of updated ETA information to protect perishables and act quickly when necessary.

Ensure cargo security
The potential for shipping container contamination or theft can increase during international or cross-border shipments, especially in regions that cross paths with the illicit drug trade. For people seeking to smuggle or traffic illegal substances into foreign countries, refrigerated shipping containers provide an opportunistic means for transport across the border. Shipments that are used to carry drugs can potentially compromise, contaminate or destroy an entire load, and potentially harm a carrier's reputation.

High-value shipments of perishable goods can also be tempting targets for thieves. It’s not uncommon for entire trucks of avocados and other valuable cargo to be stolen and resold on the black market.

“For situations like these, stakeholders need a security infrastructure capable of producing alerts when shipper doors have been opened or accessed unexpectedly,” said Shaw. Trackers with light sensors can enable the detection of shipper doors opening or an event of unauthorized access. Live shipment portals allow stakeholders to participate in the security process and/or track when shipments are being inspected via border patrol.

In the event of theft or potential tampering, location tracking capabilities can quickly help authorities find and apprehend thieves. In addition, advanced software with geo-fencing technologies can help stakeholders to set up safety zones and alert them when shipments are entering or exiting dangerous territories.

Mitigating these challenges
These are just a few of the challenges faced. The combination of data-driven software and cold chain expertise can give stakeholders the tools they need to maximize product quality, safety and security. Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series of cross-border challenges.

For more information:
Mayra Shaw
Tel: (+1) 770-425-2724

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