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The Cold Chain and its Logistics

Authors: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr. Theo Notteboom

The Cold Chain

A cold chain can functionally be considered as the close interaction between three elements:
•Product. A product is characterized by physical attributes requiring specific temperature and humidity conditions. These conditions dictate its transport, which takes place in a manner that does not undermine its physical attributes to an extent that is judged acceptable. It mostly relates to how perishable and fragile a product can be.
•Origin / Destination. A function of the respective locations where a temperature-sensitive product is produced and consumed. It is indicative of the potential difficulty of making a product available at a market. Because of advances in cold chain logistics, it became possible to use increasingly distant sourcing strategies.
•Distribution. The methods and infrastructures available to transport a product in a temperature-controlled environment. It can involve temperature controlled containers (reefers), trucks and warehousing facilities.

Operational conditions within the cold chain must be consistent so that the load and transport integrity of the shipments are maintained.

Operational Conditions of Cold Chain Logistics

Three operational conditions are fundamental in a cold chain:

•Conditional demand.

The demand of a product at a market (or place of consumption) is conditional to its qualitative attributes. Each product has a specific perishability. For some products, such as vaccines, value (and demand) drops to zero if the shipment has been slightly damaged. Other products, such as produces (fruits & vegetables), see a decline of their value in relation to the level of spoilage that took place during transit, since it will limit their shelf life and as such their commercial potential.

Load integrity.

Relates to the load conditions that must be provided to insure that a product keeps its value during transport. It can include adequate packaging and packing, as well as the conditioning that the product must go through before transport (being washed or cooled down). The reefer has become a common temperature-controlled transport unit used to insure load integrity since it can accommodate a wide range of temperature settings and accordingly a wide range of temperature sensitive products.

Transport integrity.

The series of tasks and safeguards that must be performed to insure that the temperature controlled environment remains constant during transport, in the modes, at the terminals and the distribution centers involved in the transport chain. For instance, the temperature of a shipment is often constantly tracked so that deviations can be mediated as soon as possible.

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