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  2005 Feb Issue
   
Cover Story
Turnkey: Delivering cost-efficient retail IT solutions
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Customer Relationship Management: China holds much potential for CRM programmes
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Cold-chain management – a collaborative effort
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Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair draws 30,000 buyers
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Investing in China – is it worth it?


 




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Cold-chain management – a collaborative effort

 

Speakers at the launch of the Singapore Cold Chain Centre on 17 December 2004 concurred that all parties in the supply chain — suppliers, retailers and logistics providers — are responsible for ensuring that chilled or frozen food stays in top form throughout the long process of handling and transportation, from the country of origin to the time of display for sale in the store.

To ensure that the quality of perishable goods remains stable when they reach their destinations, exporters need to have a strong relationship with all participants in the supply chain, said Heather Churchill, chairperson of the Australian Horticultural Exporters Association, at the centre’s launch.

This is especially pertinent to fruits such as cherries, whose firmness — an indicator of shelf life — is the most critical quality for those earmarked for export. Soft cherries have no shelf life and are thus not considered premium fruit. When sold in the open market at rock-bottom prices, they can cause suppliers to lose as much as A$5 (US$ 3.85) per kg.

One solution, Churchill advised exporters, is to give affected parties in the cold chain, including retailers, clear instructions on the refrigeration facilities and temperatures that are suitable for their products, as well as the procedures to follow in the event of any product delay in transit.

“The climate and infrastructure at the intended destination need to be studied [to ensure] adequate packaging and coolants to protect the commodity. This is important because the cool chain can sometimes end on arrival at the airport,” said Churchill.

Temperature monitoring, the crux of quality produce exports, is critical for chilled meat, said Adrian Dahlenburg, chief scientist horticulture of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

In its recent experiment on Australia’s chilled-pork export chain, SARDI used Isopar and RFID (radio-frequency identification) temperature-data loggers to keep track of temperatures on two separate shipments to Singapore from South Australia — one through Adelaide Airport and the other through Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne.

There were no temperature breaks in the cold chain for the Adelaide Airport shipment, which maintained its carcass bag and offal carton at ideal temperatures, averaging 1.3°C and 2.4°C, respectively.

The shipment from Tullamarine Airport, however, suffered cold-chain breaks, with temperatures increasing by 4°C in Singapore. Its temperature-data loggers recorded extensive cold-chain breaks, averaging 7.5°C for the offal carton, which possibly occurred at the Singapore airport and while on the road to the offal importer.

Dahlenburg maintained that continual temperature monitoring, which kept the Adelaide-Singapore export chain free from cold-chain breaks, should have been applied to the Tullamarine-Singapore chain, along with more reviews on the procedures. He advised checking the packing procedures (carton positions/dry ice) for future shipments.
“The temperature-monitored trials have identified areas of concern and allowed for procedures in problem areas to be reviewed,” said Dahlenburg.

Temperature control by retailers is equally indispensable in cold-chain management.
In the case of Carrefour Singapore, temperature checks are carried out from the point of reception at its warehouses to the sale of products in its stores.

Sharing what works best for her company when implementing the correct cold-chain management, Isabelle Dumortier, Carrefour Singapore’s manager of fresh-product division, emphasised the importance of meeting the temperature criteria stipulated by legislation and recommended by manufacturers. She also finds good working thermometers and special defrosting precautions crucial.

“In the event of a non-conforming temperature reading, the maintenance department or provider must be informed immediately. Cold-thaw foods must also either be sold directly or [kept at] below 4°C for use in the preparation of other foods,” Dumortier said.

The hypermarket also carries out a series of best practices in temperature control at all points of its supply route, encompassing trucks, warehouses, cold-storage facilities, preparation/handling areas and display shelves.

Equally important for Carrefour is the issue of exposure-duration control. The hypermarket tries to minimise product time outside refrigeration when loading products into trucks at warehouses to be transported to the stores and during shelving operations. Products in cold storage are also methodically arranged so that storage doors need not stay open too long.
Cold-storage equipment such as refrigerated display cabinets in warehouses and stores should also be maintained in good operating condition by authorised personnel, while ventilators in the preparation and handling areas should be clean and not frosted up.

“All corrective and preventive actions taken subsequent to alerts are to be filed. These records should be available for immediate access for inspection purposes,” said Dumortier.
In addition to temperature-control practices in the supply chain, Carrefour Singapore educates its staff and consumers on food risks posed by faulty refrigeration.

“Besides advising customers on how to preserve the original quality of products, we also provide them with the means, including bags and coolers, to preserve the temperature of products they have just bought,” said Dumortier.

Overall, government support is integral to the success of cold-chain management.
According to Susan Chong, director (standardisation division) of government body SPRING Singapore, cold-chain management can improve the link between retailers and suppliers, allowing for safer products and services, and raising their manufacturing quality.

SPRING Singapore had helped ECR Singapore draft the Technical Reference CP95:2002 in cold-chain management for milk and dairy products that is used by the country’s fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) industry.

A pilot study by SPRING Singapore on standards in cold-chain management for milk and dairy products showed that observing standards extended the shelf life of these products by 33%, said Chong. With the adoption of standards extending beyond the country’s four largest retail chains and four major suppliers, the “estimated industry savings could reach S$260,000 (US$158,750) annually” in Singapore, she said.

With assistance from ECR Singapore, and key FMCG- and pork-industry players, SPRING Singapore is also drafting the technical reference for the cold-chain management of chilled pork. A pilot trial started last November to ensure that chilled pork be maintained at a critical 4°C throughout the supply chain — from the producing country to the retail outlets and de-boning centres in Singapore.

And with food safety high on the list of retailers’ priorities, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), too, plays a critical role in cold-chain management .

As the national authority for food safety in Singapore, AVA sets the temperature regulations for the local cold chain. Its Wholesome Meat and Fish Act (Transportation of Meat Products) Rules 1999 stipulates that chilled meat products must be maintained at 4°C or below, with the core temperature during transportation not exceeding 7°C, while frozen meat must be kept at -18°C or below, with the core temperature not higher than -12°C during transportation.

Refrigerated vehicles, according to Choo Mee Li, head of meat & fish processing plant inspection branch, Food & Veterinary Administration, AVA, are also required under the same regulation to be fitted with temperature recorders, and adequately insulated and properly maintained to prevent condensation or ice formation.

“In addition, it is fraudulent for meat retailers and butchers to pass thawed-out frozen meat as chilled meat. AVA has the analytical ability (freeze-thaw test) to differentiate thawed-out frozen meat from chilled meat,” warned Choo.

Teo Nam Kuan, group director, quality and standards group, SPRING Singapore, sees the development of cold-chain standards as a win-win situation for all in the food-supply chain.
“With standards for the cold-chain management of all perishable products falling in place, competitiveness in the local food and FMCG industries can be greatly enhanced. We believe both industries will continue to be keen to adopt these standards,” he said.

Teo also sees the Singapore Cold Chain Centre benefiting consumers by directly addressing product safety and quality issues. “With a workforce trained in cold-chain management, there is no doubt we are close to realising our plans to develop Singapore into a regional cold-chain logistics hub,” he said.

About the Singapore Cold Chain Centre

The Singapore Cold Chain Centre, located on the premises of the Singapore Manufacturers Federation (SMa Federation), was officially launched on 17 December 2004.

Headed by Tng Ah Yiam, senior manager (purchasing), NTUC FairPrice, and Tan Jin Soon, executive director, Singapore Article Number Council (SANC), ECR Singapore, the Singapore Cold Chain Centre’s governing council comprises four retailers; three manufacturers; seven government agencies, including SPRING Singapore, AVA Singapore and SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute); as well as two de-boning centres; a pork importer; a pharmaceutical company; and several logistics providers.

The centre will provide and promote the use of standards in the cold-chain management of produce, perishable food and pharmaceutical products.

One of its key initiatives is conducting R&D on the application of EPCglobal and RFID solutions to track temperature profiles throughout the supply chain.

Earlier, on November 25, the SMa Federation had signed a memorandum of understanding with South Australian Freight Council, an Australian government agency, for collaboration between the Singapore Cold Chain Centre and the Australia Cold Chain Centre.

The Singapore centre will also cooperate with the industry and Australia’s institutes of higher learning to develop a pool of expertise for cold-chain management through training courses. This will help raise awareness of the importance of effective cold-chain management and prevent breakdowns in temperature requirements along the supply chain.

 

 


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