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Why F&B Needs Real-Time Supply Chain Environmental Monitoring

The F&B supply chain is becoming more complex. Routes that involve road, rail, sea, and air create many potential points of failure that, until recently, companies could not control or even detect. These “blind spots” include problems safeguarding food safety, deviations from required environmental conditions, theft, food fraud, and poor handling practices. This is why F&B needs real-time supply chain environmental monitoring.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these blind spots and how real-time supply chain environmental monitoring can minimize or eliminate them.

Common blind spots in the F&B supply chain

Food fraud. Food fraud costs the F&B industry at least $65 billion a year. All kinds of foods are counterfeited and incorrectly labeled, from luxury products such as Japanese Wagyu beef to more common items such as olive oil and seafood. Furthermore, buyers and consumers often have no way to trace the origins of what they’re purchasing.

Diversion and theft. Diversion and theft can happen at any supply chain blind spot. F&B cargo is valuable, easy to sell, and often perishable, and evidence of the theft does not last very long. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that cargo theft costs U.S. businesses $30 billion each year, and food and beverages were among the top commodities targeted by thieves in North America last year, accounting for 34 percent of all cargo theft.

Ensuring quality and safety. It’s virtually impossible to ensure food quality and safety when cargo is poorly handled. Products can be exposed to and damaged by water, heat, and cold. Food is susceptible to contamination and spoilage if environmental conditions aren’t just so. Such damage can be particularly acute in the cold chain, where perishable products must be moved quickly under exacting parameters of temperature, humidity, and light.

Routing inefficiencies. Not monitoring traffic? Not using GPS location tracking? Not adhering to local, state, federal, or international transport regulations? No matter how basic or complicated, routing inefficiencies have the same consequences: delayed shipments, product spoilage, shortened shelf life, lost revenue. Plus, routing and environmental monitoring have become even more important as governments tighten oversight of the F&B supply chain. A perfect example is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designed to better protect consumers by strengthening food safety systems for foodborne illnesses.

Recalls. Though not a blind spot, per se, recalls can take companies by surprise and are a particularly important consideration. According to a study published in 2012 by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the direct costs of a recall can reach $10 million. A separate GMA-sponsored survey reported that 5 percent of companies incurred more than $100 million in direct and indirect costs.

How does real-time supply chain environmental monitoring work for F&B?

Real-time environmental monitoring solutions give a vibrant and detailed picture of where products are and what is happening to them. Integrated monitoring in the F&B supply chain provides better continuity, visibility, security, and productivity. But how does it work, exactly?

Pallets, cases, or containers are equipped with Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled sensors that send data over communication networks at regular intervals. The sensors provide real-time information about how long an item has been in transit, if the vehicle transporting it adhered to the approved route, and, if the shipment stopped, where and for how long. This is crucial information, especially for highly perishable goods. For example, leafy greens can be ruined if a truck’s engine and cooling system are turned off for hours at a border crossing. With real-time environmental monitoring and tracking, companies can understand and act upon specific risks with detailed, unit-level data.

Data is made available via a software platform, through which users can set parameters (e.g., minimum and maximum temperature) to alert the system of irregularities or generate reports for analysis. This data is associated with the traceability data and becomes part of a product’s pedigree, making it a powerful tool for F&B supply chain visibility.

Environmental monitoring allows F&B companies to monitor their supply chains, protect consumers, protect their brands, and realize considerable return on investment. The technology can show companies how to maximize route efficiencies, change shippers, or detect theft or diversion in real time. The IoT-enabled sensors transmit alerts, empowering manufacturers and suppliers to use data to halt shipments that may have been adulterated, redirect shipments to extend shelf life, and manage food recalls — or avoid them altogether.

Final Thoughts

FSMA has shifted the responsibility for safety to F&B companies. Now, they must be proactive, not reactive. With real-time supply chain environmental monitoring, companies get actionable data that they can deploy to make decisions immediately, not after the fact when it’s too late. When necessary, they can divert or reroute shipments or take actions to remedy temperature excursions and other environmental concerns. Third-party logistics firms and contracted delivery companies can be held accountable for incidents and inefficiencies. This saves money and protects brand reputations.

Our rfxcel Integrated Monitoring (rIM) solution lets you see your products in real time and mine rich unit-level data about more than a dozen environmental conditions. It can integrate with multiple sensor devices or data loggers on land, sea, and air. With rIM, you get a truly complete view of your shipment — at a top-level (e.g., case, pallet, truck) and at an item level (e.g., packet, bottle). You’ll reduce costs and make proactive decisions based on variables such as temperature, tilt, humidity, light, and shock. By mitigating damage, delays, and diversion, your products will arrive safe and on time.

rIM also combats the key blind spots we talked about above: food fraud, diversion and theft, quality and safety concerns, routing inefficiencies, and recalls. Its real-time supply chain environmental monitoring will streamline your operations, prevent waste and financial losses, protect your investments and brand identity, and give you an advantage in the marketplace. If this sounds good, contact us today to talk about rIM with an rfxcel supply chain expert!