Sandy and the ‘cold chain’

Sandy and the ‘cold chain’

Food safety is likely to be an even bigger issue in the coming months as the New York area recovers from superstorm damage. An Israeli company offers a system to ensure that products remain safe from factory to store

Illustrative: A butcher at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Photo credit Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)
Illustrative: A butcher at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Photo credit Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)

The flooding and power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy have created havoc in the New York metropolitan area, and it’s likely to be months, if not years, before the region fully recovers. The damage is just beginning to be measured, and as the water dissipates and the mud is cleaned up, businesses will begin to tally up their losses.

Among the industries that will take the biggest hit from the storm will be the food industry, because food products cannot be salvaged. With food safety already a major concern in the US, it’s very possible that the breaking of “the cold chain” of food storage and shipment due to ongoing delays in restoring power in many affected areas will end up having a major health impact on consumers. It’s not unlikely that some of the products from warehouses and stores that lost power will  end up on retail shelves, so, say experts, consumers need to be extra vigilant in the coming months to ensure that they don’t end up buying spoiled food.

The Sandy-related problems just exacerbate the need to ensure that food products are kept under proper storage conditions throughout their odyssey from the field or factory to consumer’s table. And, using sophisticated software, Israel’s BT9 has developed a system, called Xsense, that, the company says, will ensure that “all stakeholders in the cold supply chain, have full transparency and control over their perishables, anywhere in the world, at any given time.” Using automated analytics generated by the BT9 Xsense system, along with the company’s research and consulting services, customers can identify breaks in the chain, identifying “danger spots” where the safety of food products can be compromised.

Food, medical, and chemical products should be shipped and stored within a narrow range of temperatures. For example, many pharmaceuticals are designed to be stored and shipped at a “cold chain” range of 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius, from the time of manufacture to their being dispensed in pharmacies. The freshness and taste of milk and dairy products is usually optimal at between zero and -4 degrees Centigrade, and anything above or below changes the perceived quality as well as ongoing viability of the product.

And in the case of improper meat/seafood handling and storage, the results can include dramatic health risks, including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Vibrios and Clostridium, among others.

BT9 believes that one way to ensure the safety of products is to keep a better eye on them. “We created the Xsense system in response to the food industry’s lack of real-time and early warning capabilities for consumable perishables,” said Israel Ben-Tzur, CEO of BT9. “Xsense goes far beyond conventional data logger products by providing detailed analytics and expert consulting to enable all stakeholders in the cold supply chain to better understand, track and mitigate the risks associated with breaches of temperature and relative humidity.”

Traditional cold chain monitoring systems measure each separate leg in a product’s journey from the manufacturer’s plant to the retail store, a system, said Ben-Tzur, that does not offer a complete picture of the “experience” of a product as it moves through the chain. Instead, Xsense uses sensors to record temperature and humidity information, attaching each shipment with a report of exactly what happened to it at each facility, truck, warehouse, and refrigerator or freezer where it was stored or shipped.

Using the data, BT9’s advisory staff looks at the variations in the cold chain and give specific recommendations on what the impact of the temperature data on products’ health, quality and viability of products at all steps in the process. Some of those recommendations can include, for example, container designs and modified atmosphere packaging to ensure that future shipments are safer. Globally, 30-50% of perishable and temperature-sensitive produce is wasted because of improper handling. It’s a terrible tragedy in a world where food – especially safe, healthy food – is turning into a premium, said Ben-Tzur, but using his company’s system, that level of waste can be reduced.

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