Cold store storage 101
All products have a point of origin, and must reach their destination in perfect condition. Therefore it is very important to choose a logistics process with optimum storage conditions, so as not to cause any damage. For products whose quality will deteriorate unless refrigerated, a cold chain involving refrigerated transport and cold store storage is necessary.
Products that require a cold chain include certain pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, as well as various kinds of food items such as milk, fish and frozen vegetables.
The cold store, the cold chain
Once a product has been picked or processed, it needs to be transported to a cold storage facility. ‘Reefers’ (refrigerated containers) on lorries are widely used for this purpose.
A cold storage facility, or cold store, is an insulated chamber that is completely enclosed, and within which the low temperature is kept controlled by refrigeration. Cold stores can either maintain, or lower the temperature that the stored goods were previously kept at. The exact temperature required depends on what is being stored.
The cold store is a vital link in the cold chain: goods are unloaded from trucks and loaded into the cold store, but when they are needed later on (for example, when an order from a retailer is received), they must be retrieved from the cold store. The goods are then loaded onto some means of transport once again, so they can reach their destination in the correct condition in secure packaging.
You will also need to consider the types of packaging you’re using. Certain types of corrugated board and tape are better suited to more extreme temperatures. Using new board rather than recycled, combined with using a solvent based tape means your packaging will still perform consistently in temperatures of 0-150 degrees.
Never break the chain
Goods are refrigerated at all stages of the cold chain— any deviation from a product’s acceptable temperature range could cause damage to it. For example, milk needs to be kept below eight degrees celsius so that bacteria do not multiply.
Besides the transport and the cold store itself, there are other factors of cold storage logistics you should consider. In retail, goods are displayed for selection by customers, so they need to come out of cold storage long before they reach the end user. At this point in the cold chain, refrigerated display cabinets and freezers are used. Items such as frozen meat and ready meals are stored in freezers, whereas goods like milk, and pre‑packed sandwiches are kept in refrigerated cabinets.
If perishable items have to be delivered to customers – for example, catering orders for meetings and parties – then insulated containers may be used so that the food can be kept at the correct temperature between preparation and delivery. After all, the last thing you need is a room full of clients with upset stomachs!
It’s essential that the cold chain is never broken, or compromised. There are however several points within the process where you might run into trouble:
- During transportation, if there is a malfunction in (or loss of power to) the refrigeration system.
- During unloading at the cold storage facility, if the product is left outside the refrigerated truck for too long and exposed to higher temperatures.
- During cold storage, if the temperature is incorrect.
To minimise the chance breaching any goods’ level of quality and ensure they are safe for use, it is essential to track the temperature throughout the cold chain, by using special monitors that can indicate if it’s dipped too low, and if so, for how long.
Should you build your own cold store, or rent one?
Clearly, when it comes to cold store storage, there is much to consider. If you are a business owner who makes use of a supply chain and transports goods, how much of the process should you take on?
You could build your own cold store. This would enable you to make use of an otherwise unused space. Stocktaking would be simple, and there would be no need for trucks to deliver goods from the cold store to your retail space. However, planning permission could be required, and buying and fitting the refrigeration equipment could be expensive. You would also be responsible for maintenance.
Renting a cold storage unit is another potential option. Rented units are modular, so they can be installed inside or outside. They are therefore useful for businesses with little or no available internal space. The supplier would be responsible for maintenance and providing a replacement if anything significant was permanently damaged. You could also rent additional units when required. One potential drawback of renting is that you could be paying for storage that you don’t need if you don’t make use of all the space in the unit, however many companies will provide a smaller unit on request.
Why not outsource?
Another option is to outsource your cold storage to a third-party logistics provider (3PL), which would mean that you have no need to use any part of your premises for cold storage. Both transportation and cold storage are managed on your behalf by an organisation that specialises in these aspects of the cold chain—so you can feel confident that your cold storage is in safe hands.
However, when you don’t have the goods on your premises there is naturally a slight loss in your overall control of the process. For example, you cannot perform a quick stocktake to check any discrepancies between what goods are actually there, and what is recorded on the inventory. It is also more difficult to confirm delivery dates to customers, and rectify incorrect shipments or missed deliveries.
The correct cold store storage option for you depends on the nature of your business, the characteristics of your premises, and your willingness to undertake the responsibilities required at each stage of the cold chain. Now you know the basics, you’re in a better position to make the right decision for your small business.
Check our further blog articles for more information on the various logistical problems involved in a supply chain.