Cold chain audits exist because hope is not a strategy and ignorance is not a defense. Any shipper or third-party logistics (3PL) provider who works in and around the cold chain certainly understands how vital it is to have visibility into temperature-controlled shipments, from the point of origin to final delivery. Even the slightest excursion from the mandated temperature range—at any point in the journey—could result in the loss of an entire load.
The consequences can reach far beyond a hit to the corporate bottom line on a ledger sheet. It also jeopardizes the organization’s reputation, and in extreme cases—in which spoiled products reach consumers—illness and even death are possible.
At some point along the cold chain, someone is going to say the two words that stop every shipper cold in their tracks: PROVE IT. You need to be able to prove that loads didn’t deviate from mandated temperature ranges. A documented audit of data, collected by temperature loggers throughout the shipment’s journey, is your best defense in those situations. Having that proof at your fingertips—ready to share with others—provides peace of mind, assurance and confidence to everyone.
While audits can apply to any temperature-controlled cold chain—from pharmaceuticals and medical products to fine artwork—this article focuses solely on perishable foods: we take a close look at cold chain audits, associated policies and protocols, and timing. We also provide a cold chain audit checklist, which shippers, 3PLs and other partners can use for any perishable food shipment—whether going across town, coast to coast, or around the world.
The ramifications of poor cold chain management
Recycle Track Systems, citing statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, notes that the world wastes about 1.4 million tons of food every year—and the U.S. discards more food than any other country (80 billion pounds). Some estimates indicate as much as 75% of food waste occurs during production and distribution.
Cold chain audits help provide proof of compliance
In 2016, the FDA enacted the Sanitary Transportation of Food (STF) Act, an extension of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). That might seem like a whole lot of alphabet soup, but let’s spell out what this means for you: a stakeholder running a cold chain.
The STFA is a series of regulations requiring shippers, 3PLs, carriers (by motor vehicle and by rail), receivers, and other persons involved in the transportation of food to use sanitary transportation practices to ensure food is not transported under conditions that might render the food unsellable or inedible.
Cold chain audits help hold all partners accountable
While it may appear that shippers and 3PLs who are responsible for determining the appropriate transportation operations carry the lion’s share of the burden in the cold chain, they are hardly in this endeavor alone. Carriers and receivers also have roles to fulfill to ensure a smoothly-running cold chain. Still, it is the shippers’ responsibility to document and communicate procedures to all parties.
Cold chain audit tools assess risk & gauge performance
Identifying potential risks and assessing cold chain vulnerabilities are also at the heart of cold chain management. While some might use the terms assessment and audit interchangeably, each is used at a different point in cold chain management—and has a distinct purpose.
An assessment identifies gaps, issues, and other risks in your cold chain—and provides a holistic view of where you should deploy additional resources and take corrective actions to eliminate risks.
An audit determines whether the cold chain operates as intended according to the policies and protocols in place. Cold chain policies are the overarching rules designed to achieve the objectives of moving perishable foods. Cold chain protocols define the set of steps or procedures that must be followed to fulfill the policies. Regulatory agencies can request audits anytime; you can also schedule them annually or quarterly, depending on corporate needs.
Any cold chain food safety initiative—complete with assessment and audit guidelines, policies, and protocols governing cold chain storage, transportation, and handling—stands a much better chance of succeeding when everything is documented in writing and is accessible by all stakeholders.
A cold chain storage supply chain & audit checklist
Tive, a leading provider of cold chain temperature tracking solutions, has built a handy checklist to help you prepare for a cold chain audit. Some of these items pertain directly to shippers, while others are for your supply chain partners. Sharing this checklist with them ensures they can be ready for an audit, as well.