Truck in a tunnel

Cold chain logistics is a process that allows temperature-sensitive or perishable cargo to be moved through the supply chain without becoming compromised. Such goods include food, pharmaceutical products and medical supplies.

It involves all aspects of the supply chain from the preparation of the goods to their storage and transportation.

Read on to learn more about the key components and technologies of cold chain logistics, its challenges, process and key trends. We also share the main differences between cold chain and normal logistics below!

Key elements of cold chain logistics

Hand holding fridge handle

The key components of cold chain logistics include:

  • Cooling systems

Perishable items have to be kept at low temperatures to prevent them from going bad. Thus, these cooling systems allow the items to be kept at the optimum temperature throughout all stages of the supply chain.

  • Storage

While the products are waiting to be shipped, processed or distributed, they have to be stored in a cool facility such as a blast freezer, cold room or refrigerated container.

  • Processing and distribution

The goods will be processed in a sanitary facility before being loaded into boxes or crates for distribution.

  • Transportation

To prevent the goods from being compromised, it’s crucial to ensure that the temperature and humidity levels within the vehicle or load unit remain constant during transport.

Cold chain vs normal logistics

Parcels on a moving track

Greater time sensitivity

As cold chain logistics deal with perishable goods, it’s typically more time-sensitive than normal logistics.

Spending a longer period of time in shipment could mean more opportunities for the products to become compromised. Thus, cold chain logistics providers have to move the goods efficiently to reduce shipping delays as much as possible.

Greater emphasis on documentation

As compared to normal logistics, its cold chain counterpart faces more regulations and documentation requirements.

Logistics providers are required to maintain a control log documenting the temperature of their containers. Typically, these records must detail the temperature at every hour. Failure to comply with these regulations and requirements can result in fines and a suspension of their operating license.

Greater impact on public health and safety

Food, pharmaceutical or medical products that have been compromised during the shipment can negatively impact public health and safety when they’re being sold to the unsuspecting community.

For example, food that isn’t stored at the right temperature can become a host for bacteria. Additionally, medical supplies can lose their effectiveness if they aren’t stored at the required temperature.

Unsure of whether cold chain or normal logistics is more suitable for your business? Speak to our friendly customer service team today!

Cold chain technologies

2 blocks of dry ice

Gel packs

Temperature: At least 0°C
Used for: Pharmaceutical and medical products

A large majority of pharmaceutical and medical products need to be stored between 2°C and 8°C. Thus, gel packs are usually used to achieve this temperature.

They tend to start off frozen and slowly turn into a liquid while the cargo is being transported.

Eutectic plates

Temperature: At least -5°C
Used for: Food, pharmaceutical and medical products

Eutectic plates, otherwise known as cold plates, are filled with liquid and can be reused. 

They function similarly to gel packs as they’re frozen before being used during the transportation of cargo. Along the way, the frozen contents will return back into their liquid state.

Dry ice

Temperature: Approximately -78.5°C
Used for: Pharmaceutical products, food and dangerous goods

Dry ice is carbon dioxide in solid state. Unlike normal ice, it doesn’t melt but instead sublimes when in contact with air.

Liquid nitrogen

Temperature: Approximately -196°C
Used for: Biological items like organs and tissues

Liquid nitrogen is a hazardous material as direct contact with this substance can cause burns and frostbite. However, it’s used for transporting cargo in cold chain logistics as it can keep the cargo frozen for a longer period of time.

Reefers

Temperature: Between -30°C and 30°C
Used for: Food, pharmaceutical and medical products

Reefers, otherwise known as refrigerated trucks, are insulated vehicles that are able to create a temperature-controlled environment. They can come in a wide range of sizes to suit your business needs.

Quilts

Temperature: Not applicable
Used for: Food, pharmaceutical and medical products

Quilts are insulated coverings that are placed around or over freight to maintain a constant temperature. This allows the freight to remain cold or frozen for a longer period of time.

Challenges in cold chain logistics

Wooden thermometer on snow

Maintenance of product quality

Maintaining the quality of the cargo throughout the entire shipment can be a challenge.

Problems such as poor sanitation, contamination and physical damage can occur at any point during the process. Thus, an equal focus should be placed on all stages of the process including packaging, loading and shipping.

Documentation at every step of the process

Keeping an hourly record of the temperature of the storage facility can be tedious. However, this is a necessary step in preventing the cargo from turning bad.

Delays in shipment

Cold chain logistics is time-sensitive; any delays in shipment can cause serious issues and potentially compromise the integrity of the cargo. Thus, it’s crucial to minimise shipment delays as much as possible.

Consistency of temperature

Changes to cargo temperature could arise due to various reasons including

  • loading and unloading of goods,
  • faulty cooling systems or devices and
  • extreme weather conditions.

However, these temperature changes can be detrimental to the quality and integrity of the product.

At M&P International Freights, we aim to make your shipments as smooth as possible. Find out how we can help to overcome these potential challenges!

The cold chain process

Drawing of shipment process

Step 1: Preparing the goods for shipment

There are a couple of considerations when it comes to preparing the cargo for shipment:

  • How to package the goods
  • What cold chain technologies are needed for the shipment
  • How to prepare the load unit used to transport the cargo

These factors will affect the temperature of the goods, which will subsequently affect their quality.

Step 2: Shipping the goods

Once the goods are prepared for shipment, the next step is to consider the shipment mode. 

These are some of the main considerations when deciding on the mode of transport:

  • Distance from the place of origin to the destination, including intermediate stops
  • Size and weight of the cargo
  • Exterior temperature required
  • Perishability of the cargo

Step 3: Proceeding through customs

Cargo that’s travelling from one country to another will require customs clearance. Additionally, pharmaceutical and medical products will often require more stringent checks as compared to regular cargo.

As cold chain products are perishable, shortening the time taken to clear the customs is crucial. Thus, finding a reliable and experienced service provider will help to speed up this process.

Step 4: Delivery to the end customer

Before arranging the delivery to the customer, it’s important to consider the 

  • delivery time, 
  • delivery route, 
  • labour and 
  • storage space required. 

Finding the shortest and most efficient route to the destination, taking into account parking and traffic congestions, will help to reduce the possibility of damages to the cargo. 

Furthermore, it’s crucial to ensure that the transport vehicle used is equipped with the necessary cooling equipment to keep the cargo at the optimum temperature.

Step 5: After delivery

Once the cargo has been delivered to the final destination, the temperature records should be disclosed to the customer. This allows them to verify that the goods weren’t compromised during the shipment and establishes trust between both parties.

Keen to find out more details about each step of our cold chain process? Enquire with our team here!

Trends in cold chain management

Doctor drawing a needle

Vaccine logistics

Due to the pandemic, there has been a surge in the global demand for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

These vaccines are highly sensitive to slight changes in temperature and their quality and effectiveness can be negatively affected if not handled carefully. In fact, it was reported that 25% of the vaccines were compromised due to malfunctions during the cold chain process.

As such, an effective and well-managed cold chain logistics system is required to ensure that the world can achieve its global immunisation target.

Less than truckload (LTL) transportation

LTL transportation has been the go-to solution for many businesses seeking to reduce their operating costs. Rather than paying for a full trailer or truck for their shipment, they would simply pay for the space that their cargo occupies.

Thus, cold chain logistics providers should look towards providing LTL services if they have yet to offer them.

Third-party logistics (3PL)

3PL companies have entered the spotlight in recent years as a growing number of businesses are looking to outsource various parts of the cold chain logistics process such as storage, processing and distribution and transportation.

Companies no longer have to specialise in the entire cold chain process but can take on different steps depending on their equipment and facilities available.

We’re able to provide a wide range of services to meet your needs including refrigerated trucking and warehouse storage solutions!

Meeting your cold chain logistical needs

Finding a reliable and efficient cold chain logistics provider is essential in maintaining the quality of your cargo from start to finish.

Find out how we can meet your cold chain needs by contacting us today!

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