Standards are more crucial than ever

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The numbers say it all: One third of all food produced globally – 1.3 billion tonnes worth – is wasted somewhere along the supply chain, each and every year, writes Donald Urquhart.

A shocking statistic for a world under severe ecological pressure and one in which millions of people are malnourished. But many involved in the global cool chain business are pushing for standards to help make this sector both efficient and safe.

In a step aimed at redressing this and the fundamental gaps that exist in the global perishables cool chain, a clarion call was made recently by Cool Chain Association (CCA) chairman Stavros Evangelakakis for the air cargo community to drive its own standard for perishables, before it is imposed upon the industry.

A lack of accountability is a key contributing factor to this wastage says Evangelakakis. “Collaboration, transparency, and data sharing, as well as training for perishables growers and better facilities are needed to inject quality into a fragmented and disconnected supply chain,” he says. “We should aim for quality, we should not wait for other agencies to come up with standards, we should look internally and act now.”

Indeed this theme is echoed by Sealed Air vice president of strategy and business development Susan Bell, speaking in Singapore recently she highlighted the importance of the public safety aspect, particularly in the rapidly evolving e-commerce environment.

This enormous food waste on a global basis combined with food safety issues highlights the need for not just proper packaging and logistics, but an industry-wide initiative to cooperate and develop standards in what she said is a “call to action for the industry”.

“There’s a lack of digital connectivity – the industry truly needs a digital interface,” Bell argues. “Today many companies offer temperature monitors but that’s not enough. To truly ensure product safety we as an industry must band together and create a digital infrastructure, a digital ecosystem.”

Temperature, shock, vibration, humidity can all be tracked throughout the entire supply chain journey to ensure product integrity, but its important to use that data proactively she says and that’s where the industry is not keeping up with changes in demand.

Noting that B2C global e-commerce is expected to reach $4.5 trillion by 2021, she observed that buying groceries online are a growing part of this, which in turn is a reflection of the growth of the global perishables trade.

“If you think about the groceries you ordered online last week, most of the meat or fruit you ordered has gone through 10 steps or more and supply chain.The insulin you picked up in the pharmacy last week, the vaccine your daughter got at the doctor’s – those are biological pharmaceuticals, which by and large go through 17 to 20 points from active pharmaceutical ingredient to patient use. Whether food or pharmaceuticals, these are both very highly complex supply chains,” she says.

Those two industries – food and pharmaceuticals – require cool chain solutions, she said. “What happens along the logistics journey when perishable foods or pharmaceuticals are inside that shipper, it’s not about the package or the logistics chain, it’s about public safety.

“Lives can be on the line. It may sound like an exaggeration, but when it comes to e-commerce shipping, it’s really not,” she says.

The problem, Bell highlights, is that food products are not regulated through this shipment process, whereas pharmaceuticals are, but only from the first point of distribution, or the first point of manufacture, to the first point of distribution.

But crucially, the key differentiating factor is that the pharmaceutical logistics industry does at least have voluntary certification such as IATA’s CEIV.