Cold Chain Monitoring: Understanding the Science, Strategies, and More

November 20, 2023
Cold Chain

Cold chain monitoring involves a network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution processes that need to be maintained to ensure the quality and safety of temperature-sensitive products. These products can range from biopharmaceuticals and vaccines to perishable foods and even electronics. Any deviation from the pre-defined temperature range during transport or storage can result in product spoilage, making them useless, and, in some cases, a health risk to consumers.

The cold chain is often a complex system that involves multiple stakeholders who are each responsible for specific activities and standards during the process. To be able to monitor the cold chain effectively you need to have the right technology, people, and processes in place. Let’s explore some of the factors that need to be considered. 

The science behind cold chain tech

Cold chain monitoring devices are generally equipped with various sensors, such as thermocouples and data loggers, which continuously track and record temperature data. They are designed with specialized chemicals that react to temperature changes within predefined ranges. When the temperature deviates from the desired range, two simultaneous functions become active.  

  1. Color-changing indicators

Cold chain monitoring devices display and record cumulative exposure of the product to temperature conditions. A chemical reaction within the Smart TagTM causes ink to gradually change the barcode with each temperature excursion. This information is critical to provide personnel with instant, visual feedback about the product’s condition over time. 

  1. Data logging

Smart TagTM Cold chain monitoring devices digitally track temperature deviations throughout the cold chain journey. Whenever they are scanned during the cold chain process, automatic messages are sent to key stakeholders alerting them of any temperature deviations. It also sends temperature-related information to an analytics dashboard for further analysis.

This real-time monitoring allows for immediate action to be taken, such as redirecting shipments or replacing compromised products.

Strategies for each phase of the cold chain

You need to manage multiple factors simultaneously to ensure that temperature-sensitive products make it from manufacturing to consumers safely. Here are the best practices to consider at each point:

  1. Production and Manufacturing

Temperature monitoring begins at the production and manufacturing phase, where products are created, processed, or assembled. This is a crucial phase because any initial temperature mishaps can have long-lasting effects on product quality. Best practices at this stage include:

  • Calibrating and maintaining temperature control equipment regularly.
  • Using temperature data loggers or sensors to continuously monitor conditions.
  • Establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for temperature control.
  1. Storage and Packaging

Once products are manufactured, they are stored and packaged in a controlled environment. Best practices during this phase include:

  • Implementing first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory management to prevent product aging.
  • Regularly inspecting packaging materials for damage or defects.
  • Conducting routine temperature checks to validate storage conditions.
  1. Transportation

During the transportation phase, temperature monitoring is crucial to prevent temperature fluctuations during transit. Best practices include:

  • Equipping vehicles with temperature-monitoring devices, such as data loggers or real-time tracking systems.
  • Pre-cooling vehicles and containers before loading sensitive products.
  • Monitoring ambient temperature during transit and setting alarms for deviations.
  1. Distribution Centers

In distribution centers, products are sorted, and temperature control is maintained. Best practices at this phase include:

  • Conducting periodic temperature mapping studies to identify temperature variations within storage areas.
  • Monitoring temperature continuously and implementing alarm systems to alert staff of deviations.
  • Having backup power sources in case of power outages.
  1. Retail and Customer Handling

Finally, products reach their destination, whether it's a retail store or the end customer. Best practices during this phase include:

  • Ensuring that retail facilities have proper temperature-controlled storage areas.
  • Implementing FIFO practices to prevent products from staying on shelves for too long.
  • Monitoring and auditing temperature control at retail locations to maintain product quality.

How to take control of the cold chain

Taking control of your cold chain shipments takes a holistic approach. If you can manage these four factors, you have a good chance of securing your temperature-sensitive products. 

  1. Cold chain tech solutions

A variety of technologies are now available to assist with tracking and monitoring temperatures. Varcode provides a suite of excellent tools that work together to simplify your cold chain monitoring practices. Varcode's Smart TagTM and Scanning Suite lets you track the temperature of your products. The management suite also provides you with a data dashboard so you may delve further into the specifics. Having access to the data you require to make more informed decisions in the future is the main concern, regardless of the technology you use.

  1. Process, process, process

Success in the temperature-sensitive product transportation industry is mostly dependent on your ability to consistently provide high-quality work. This is only possible if all steps in the process have been standardized and documented to reduce variability and human error. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are time-consuming to develop, but they are extremely beneficial. Remember that even though a method seems to be working right now, it might eventually need to be evaluated and modified. 

  1. Communication

People with distinct roles to perform make up the entire cold chain and communication with them is an essential component of any monitoring system. Communication channels are essential to swiftly get everyone on the same page in the event of a change of plan. Who should you have on speed dial along the cold chain as first responders? Have you decided on a communication strategy? 

  1. Education

As technology advances, so too do the tools and methods available for ensuring the integrity of the cold chain. Professionals in this field must stay current with the latest innovations in refrigeration, data logging, and logistics, as well as the regulatory changes that govern the industry. Continuous learning not only safeguards the quality and safety of products but also enhances operational efficiency, reduces waste, and minimizes environmental impact. Ongoing education and adaptation are essential for maintaining the integrity of the cold chain and meeting the demands of the market.

Level up your cold chain monitoring today

While communication, education, and process maintenance are ongoing endeavors, you can rest assured that Varcode has the technology to make managing your cold chain shipments simple and transparent.

If you want to start getting the benefits of the Smart TagTM, get in touch with Varcode today. Varcode’s solutions give you a suite of management tools that will put you in control of your cold chain shipments.

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