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Protecting the Pharmaceutical and Grocery Store Cold Chain October 19th, 2022

Protecting the Pharmaceutical and Grocery Store Cold Chain
A solution leveraging passive RFID shows promise for effective temperature monitoring. 

Environmental control is vital to grocery and pharmaceutical cold chains. Perishable products require transportation within a set temperature range to prevent spoilage and waste. Furthermore, if products exposed to extreme temperatures reach consumers, they can create serious health risks. Therefore, European governments have enacted strict regulations to ensure proper health safety and mitigate the risks of negative economic impacts. The World Bank estimates that financial losses due to insufficient food safety cost $110 billion annually. Additionally, an IQVIA study puts pharma losses from improper handling, including cold chain failure, at about $35 billion yearly.      

The biggest challenge is visibility into conditions during cold chain transport. The time it takes to move products over hundreds of kilometers can be enough for a shipment to spoil if refrigeration fails. The ideal solution would be to monitor the temperature continuously and immediately alert the driver or another supply chain partner that the load requires attention to prevent losses. Unfortunately, many systems now only log temperature at checkpoints, creating the opportunity for undetected spoilage.  

An Innovative RFID Solution  

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry at the University of Pisa and the Institute of Clinical Physiology of the National Research Council in Pisa, Italy, have completed successful tests with passive RFID for cold chain monitoring.  

RFID tags, modified with a copper-doped ionic liquid that reacts to temperatures higher than 8˚C, detected temperature changes during the shipment of medical products. Once the temperature exceeded the threshold, the tag was permanently altered, and changes in humidity didn’t diminish the solution’s performance.  

The researchers chose passive RFID because they don’t require a battery; instead, the RFID reader powers passive RFID tags with the electromagnetic field it emits. They also offer growers, food processors, and pharma companies a reliable and low-cost solution. They also are available in various frequency ranges to meet the needs of the use case, for example, low-frequency tags with minimal interference from liquids or metals. Additionally, an RFID reader can check temperatures intermittently, providing data in time to intervene if necessary.  

Additional Temperature-Sensing Options Solutions 

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Depending on the products set for transport, the cold chain could benefit from a solution that provides only data on exposure to different temperature ranges. For example, some products are safe for use after a brief temperature spike but can degrade when exposed to extremely high or low temperatures over time. Time-temperature indicators may provide all the information the use case requires, using labels treated with chemicals that react to temperature changes. In addition, they change colors, giving visual cues that products are still safe for use. In some cases, these solutions include electronic indicators that assist with interpreting color changes.  

Another option is building solutions with thermistors, resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), and thermocouples, which are used in other industries, such as manufacturing, food processing, and healthcare. These sensors can combine with a datalogger for continuous monitoring, alerting a driver or sending data to the cloud. However, the downside of these solutions can include poor performance in high humidity and significant expenses added to transportation costs.  

The Opportunity for Technology Solution Providers 

Demand for solutions that ensure a safe cold chain is increasing. According to Transparency Market Research, the global temperature sensor market is poised to grow at a 5.4 percent CAGR, from USD 6 billion in 2021 to USD 10.6 billion by the end of 2031 

The need for these solutions may increase even more as geopolitical conflicts and regional food shortages disrupt the supply chain. Those factors could require expanded cold chain footprints to transport food and pharmaceuticals to meet critical needs. In these circumstances, temperature monitoring must be accurate and reliable, as there will be no tolerance for failure and waste.   

Take the time to evaluate new temperature monitoring technologies for grocery and pharmaceutical cold chains and offer your clients solutions to ensure they deliver safe, quality products. 

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