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Manage the Extreme Cold Chain
Ocean Beauty uses the PakSense temperature monitoring label to ensure the quality of shipments worldwide
by Amy Childress, Jan Koslosky, and Ally Wewers
Increased globalization and remote sourcing in the food industry have brought options and convenience closer to home for many consumers. Yet the boost in imports and exports of commodities has created new challenges for suppliers, shippers, and retailers. With the perishables industry constantly expanding, physical distances and shipping conditions are critical considerations in the supply chain.
The cold chain, a vital segment of the supply chain, involves an extremely vulnerable and sensitive combination of processes that have a key impact on the condition of the final product. Especially in extreme cases of temperature, distance, and multi-modal transportation, any weak link in the cold chain could mean extensive damage to product, brand name, or supplier-retailer relationships.
Ocean Beauty Seafoods recognized early on the importance of cold chain management and visibility. Founded in 1910 and based in Seattle, Wash., the company has processing, distribution, and sales outlets in Alaska, throughout the continental United States, and in Japan. A worldwide sourcing network, coupled with processing and distribution, enables Ocean Beauty to deliver a diverse line of premium products and value-added services virtually anywhere seafood is consumed. However, the extreme complexity of their supply chain necessitated an innovative approach to cold chain management.
The Challenge of Salmon
Most of Ocean Beauty’s salmon processing facilities are in remote or semi-remote coastal communities in Alaska. These remote areas have limited airlift capabilities during the peak salmon harvest period in July and August. For example, air shipments from Cordova, Alaska, which supply Copper River King and Sockeye salmon, occur only two times a day. These shipments travel to either Seattle or Anchorage with further connections to destinations in the lower 48 states.
As a second option, the company places ocean containers full of salmon on high-speed ferries and barges to Whittier, Alaska. Containers are then trucked to the company’s freight forwarder in Anchorage. Each shipment is parceled into smaller portions and tendered to a variety of air carriers for shipment to the final destination.
A complicated supply chain originating from a remote location, coupled with salmon values approaching $1,000 per carton, necessitates a comprehensive temperature management program to ensure product quality and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.
Jan Koslosky, director of supply chain management, is responsible for ensuring the quality of fresh seafood from the source to customers nationwide. Ocean Beauty’s complicated supply chain required his team to develop creative solutions to ensure the integrity of the company’s cold chain.
To tackle the issue, the company implemented several solutions. No individual component stands on its own, yet in aggregate, the solutions represent a comprehensive cold chain management program that effectively protects one of the most challenging supply chains in the world.
First, the company partnered with its airline carrier to develop better handling processes for air freight shipments. In the past, insulated shipments had waited on the tarmac until loading could occur. Product packaging was subjected to ambient air temperatures and outside weather conditions. As part of the new process, shipments are placed into chill rooms until they can be loaded.
Second, Ocean Beauty worked with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The company’s Cordova and Kodiak, Alaska plants are now TSA-certified shipper cargo screening facilities in Alaska. This program permits shipments to be pre-screened and eliminates the requirements for screening at the airport prior to flight. The result: Shipments move faster, and internal physical searches of carton contents are avoided.
The third element of the cold chain management program is a comprehensive temperature monitoring program.
Continuous Temperature Monitoring
Ocean Beauty has always used temperature monitoring in some capacity to monitor shipments. However, these traditional, larger devices had to be secured to the outside of a carton in the shipment, where they measured the ambient air of the transport container. These units were often crushed or sheared off the carton in transit.
The PakSense temperature monitoring label was introduced to Koslosky in the fall of 2006. Flat and about the size of a sugar packet, the PakSense label remains on the cartons in a clear pouch provided by the company. The labels monitor time and the temperature of the product during distribution and take a surface temperature read of the object to which they are attached. Lights on the label will flash if recommended temperatures are exceeded, and all data collected by the label can be downloaded and graphed. These temperature recorders are the “eyes and ears” of the quality assurance team when the product is outside of their direct control.
Ocean Beauty initially used the labels in several ways. First, labels were used selectively to analyze specific routes and improve processes with Ocean Beauty’s airline carrier. Later, two labels—one located on the interior of the carton and one on the exterior—were used to analyze the effects of extreme ambient temperature on the outside of the container, with the actual temperature of the product on the inside. They were also used to help Ocean Beauty determine whether or not sufficient coolant had been placed in cartons prior to shipment.
However, usage quickly spread downstream to other areas of the company’s supply chain.
Management Moves Downstream
Ocean Beauty operates fresh fish distribution centers in eight locations, including Phoenix, Dallas, Portland, and Seattle. These locations are now equipped with readers to download and promptly read the PakSense labels arriving from the Alaska plants. Labels are placed on cartons at the Cordova, Kenai, and Kodiak plants, with expansion plans to include the Excursion Inlet near Juneau. Recently, Ocean Beauty began placing PakSense labels on shipments of fresh caviar from Alaska to Tokyo. The labels provide a detailed time and temperature record of the products’ entire supply chain journey, from processing plants in remote areas of Alaska to the airport in Anchorage or Seattle and, finally, to their ultimate destinations.
“To have the entire temperature history of our seafood from our remote processing centers to our distribution centers throughout the world is powerful,” said Koslosky. “We think this detailed data and our attention to quality assurance is something our customers can truly appreciate.”
As the perishables industry continues to expand globally, it becomes even more imperative to monitor and manage the supply chain. Ocean Beauty and other companies realize that there is no replacement for the confidence that comes with an optimized cold chain.
“The combined program, including working with our airline carrier, the TSA, and applying temperature monitoring labels, has helped us implement a comprehensive cold chain management program,” said Koslosky. “No matter where in the world our products are shipped, our customers can be assured that our quality assurance program is first class.” n
Amy Childress is the marketing director at PakSense, developer of intelligent sensing products specifically designed to monitor perishable goods. Ally Wewers is a marketing associate for the company. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jan Koslosky is director of supply chain management for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the largest seafood companies in the Pacific Northwest.