The road from paddock to plate can be a long one in a vast, sun-baked country like Australia. One in three food products are lost or wasted along the way each year, often because of breaks in the cold chain – the refrigerated transport and storage of fresh, chilled, and frozen foods from farm or factory to point of sale. The greater the distance food travels, and the more times a product is transferred between suppliers, transporters, distributors, and retailers, the more likely it is that a break might occur in the cold chain which could cause food to spoil.
Cold chain conditions are set for foods relating to the maximum and minimum temperature requirements, and the length of time a food product can be allowed to remain unrefrigerated. Rotating stock to ensure that products are sold before reaching their expiry date is the final rule guiding cold chain supply.
An uninterrupted cold chain gives a guarantee that food is safe to eat when it reaches the consumer. Breaks in the chain could affect the quality of the food, and its shelf life, potentially making the food unsafe to eat. Let’s take a closer look at Australia’s cold chain supply rules.
Never warmer than
The NEVER WARMER THAN rule governs the maximum temperature at which food should be transported, stored, and handled. Chilled foods may also have a KEEP ABOVE temperature to ensure that food is not damaged by being frozen.
While food manufacturers and producers are responsible for setting any NEVER WARMER THAN and KEEP ABOVE temperatures, Australian Food and Grocery Council guidelines recommend that chilled foods are never warmer than 5°C and frozen foods never warmer than -18°C. The same guidelines recommend that chilled foods are kept above 0°C to prevent damage from ice crystal formation. Temperatures must be specified in all documents accompanying the food and communicated from each link in the cold chain to the next.
A recent study we conducted within the food retail sector identified food safety concerns on high-risk products which were running significantly over temperature guidelines during transit. More than half of all trips were in breach of temperature guidelines, with 25 percent of high-temperature trips posing potential food safety risks.
Maximum out of refrigeration
The maximum out of refrigeration rule specifies the length of time a food can be outside a temperature-controlled environment without breaking the cold chain conditions.
While time limits are set by producers and manufacturers, AFGC guidelines recommend chilled foods are not out of refrigeration for more than 20 minutes. Frozen foods being unloaded or dispatched in ambient, or room temperature, conditions should likewise have a maximum out of refrigeration time limit of 20 minutes, extending to 60 minutes in air-conditioned environments of 5°C to 15°C and 90 minutes in refrigerated zones of 0°C to 5°C. Ice cream should have a maximum out of refrigeration limit of 20 minutes in chilled zones and never be stored at room temperature.
The maximum out-of refrigeration rule helps maintain the quality of products, which can rapidly deteriorate if time limits are exceeded, and temperature thresholds are breached. The study found products were spending significant amounts of time – 24 hours or more – in trailers during transit, with temperature guidelines, breached during loading and unloading and along some supply routes.
First expiry – first out
Foods with an earlier expiry date should be the first selected for dispatch or use. This simple stock rotation principle helps to minimise food waste but requires a proper inventory management system to implement correctly. Food may be delivered out of the expiry date sequence, and the most recently delivered produce is usually also the most accessible. This rule extends right down the supply chain from suppliers and transport hauliers to dispatch centres and retailers.
The importance of record-keeping
A careful record of the cold chain is the only way of ensuring that cold chain conditions remain intact. Sloppy record-keeping not only fails to assure consumers that food spoilage has not occurred – but could itself be grounds for rejecting goods.
The Cold Chain Management solution simplifies cold chain compliance, allowing producers, wholesalers and retailers to monitor quality, compliance and temperature data every step of the way. The result? Improved food safety, reduced waste and increased shelf-life – while managing your inventory and following best cold chain practice on one easy-to-use digital platform.