New food logistics technologies deliver the goods

Ten years ago, the best method to measure the temperature of produce was to stick a thermometer in a box on the back of the delivery truck. As Sam Murden reports, Zebra Technologies has undertaken several changes to ensure safety and quality are upheld.

Zebra Technologies has a simple solution to an otherwise complex question: How can value be added to the process of food transportation? Scanner guns –the barcode readers used in warehouses world-wide –are getting a makeover, as retailers scramble to boost productivity amid a surge in online orders.

Warehouse workers use scanners thousands of times a day, yet they often find that the temperature of a product may be uneven.

This is usually due to the placement and handling of the product at the end of the production line.

Wayne Harper has spent 19 years at Zebra Technologies and is the Senior Technical Director for the company in the Asia Pacific.

In an interview with Food & Beverage Industry News, Harper said the ‘brick on a stick’ scanner has been the industry standard for decades.

“Retailers rely on the devices to keep track of hundreds of thousands of goods stored in, and moving around, massive distribution centres.”

“While this type of monitoring has been taking place for the last decade or so, the method has proven to be somewhat inaccurate.”

Harper argues that the sheer volume and variety of food products churned out from the factories on a weekly basis had led to inaccuracies in product labelling and differences in temperatures in the product delivered to supermarkets.

Salami Ice Cream: the perfect package?

Salami, as an example, was produced long before the outcome of microorganisms on the process of producing salami was recognised. Before starter cultures were commercialised, the manufacture of salami relied on the existence of indigenous lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to produce salami.

As a result, starter cultures were introduced about 40 years ago in the salami industry and are now widely used and accepted as a necessity to control processing and ensure quality in salami production. The advantages of meat starter cultures are wide-ranging; they lead to standardisation and safety of the production process as well as turning out a product with a high degree of uniformity, and it might be possible to accelerate the processing time.

“Some salami grades may have 10 per cent prime quality meat and 25 per cent mixed fats,” Harper said.

“Whilst the material is typically sorted out at the end of the production, Zebra Technologies ensures it is monitored from the start to ensure that the optimal environment and temperature can be kept under control.”

Harper pointed out the importance of the evolving food logistics technology to the handling of frozen dairy products, such as ice cream.

“In this case, we use the same process as salami to ensure that the perfect ambient temperature is maintained from the factory, to the truck and finally to the supermarket shelf.”

Based in South Australia, Auscold Logistics is one example of a company that provides safe, reliable and cost-effective transport and warehousing solutions to ensure control points are managed safely, efficiently and effectively.

The sheer scale of these comprehensive storage facilities is worth noting: almost 4000 pallets of freezer storage and 2000 pallets of chilled storage are all controlled through 9 temperature controlled ‘Igloo style’ docks.

According to Auscold Logistics Managing Director Bill Andary, real-time temperature monitoring across all vehicles, docks and warehouses can provide significant benefits to managers.

“Benefits are significant to both management and order selectors. Managers can organise orders to create more efficient workflows, and easily reorganise them to meet requests or pressing schedules,” he said.

Handling the future of food logistics

Zebra Technologies has bet on a new version of its scanning gun that eliminates the need for warehouse employees to continuously extend their arms or rotate their wrists.

Advanced RFID-based solutions for packing stations ensure the highest levels of accuracy throughout warehouse staging and packing, while new innovative mobile technology saves previous seconds during the manually intensive warehouse packing, staging and loading processes for outbound materials.

As Harper concluded, the health and safety of the product ensures that it is kept auditable and traceable with up-to-date information.

“Ultimately, we add value to the product through our mobile technology that enables users to electronically capture data in real time, and uses ASN and GS1 information to help get the product in the most efficient amount of time.”

In other words, placing value through to the consumer: that’s how food logistics will evolve over the next decade.

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