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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Temperature Monitoring

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 12, 2006

In response to the Pundit’s piece Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring, in which we argued that good delivery standards have to change on fresh-cut product to reflect the fact that bacteria may grow even if the product looks good, we received several replies:

Tom O’Brien of C&D Fruit & Vegetable, Bradenton, FL, has a wry take on the matter:

Most receivers nowadays not only check the temperature recorders but also pulp temperature samples of the product on the truck. Many times when we are palletizing loads of squash during the late spring/early summer (when it is hot or very warm, day and night), we must break down the pallets to pre cool so all the product gets cooled. There are very few receivers that don’t let you know when there is a temperature problem even if the recorder reads right.

Our industry has come a long way and we as grower/shippers must be better because no matter what, it seems our customers are always right when they tell us what we are doing wrong.

And Pat Vache, President of Escort Data Loggers LLC, had this to say:

We appreciate all the work you’ve done over these weeks of crises and recalls to raise the level of awareness of food safety, the meaning of risk, the role of technology and the highs and lows of human response and behavior. You and the Pundit staff are to be commended for your ongoing thorough and fair coverage.

You were kind enough to mention Escort Data Loggers and temperature monitoring as a key, if perhaps generally under acknowledged, piece of the puzzle. Like you, we have some thoughts on the subject we’d like to share.

First, data collection is clearly a far cry from interactive temperature monitoring; the industry is quickly evolving to the place where cost and technology effectiveness meet at an acceptable value point.

Second, interactive monitoring will always be but one tool in the hands, hearts and minds of people who must make key product decisions about the basic question of “is the product safe to consume?” More than being about fixing blame, monitoring of the cold chain can, and often is, about making the right decision on product quality.

Third, interactive monitoring will not necessarily prevent product spoilage. The obvious example is a container in the middle of a container ship. Knowing that the temperature is outside acceptable limits does not make that container more accessible. While an intact and effective cold chain has the ability to slow pathogen growth; it cannot prevent contamination.

Fourth, the solution to cold chain protection is a collaborative one where partners, customers, vendors and even sometimes competitors lay aside their differences to align and connect what each does best as product passes from link to link in the cold chain — in transport, processing and manufacturing, warehousing and retail handling and display. We also have a constant obligation to help educate consumers in their understanding of food and their own role in better food safety through temperature control.

Finally, none of this is cost-free. All the relevant industries need to be prepared to balance food safety with additional investment in systems and protection. At PMA in San Diego, Escort Data Loggers will be introducing our interactive temperature monitoring system for use in-transit and in-storage. We urge visitors with the intent of raising the bar on temperature-controlled food safety to visit not only our booth but those of companies with other technologies.

When I read Pat’s letter I am reminded that our industry is too often guilty of that classic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it will produce different results.

As the spinach crisis hit its peak and the various trade associations came up with a plan to restart the industry and reassure consumers, I couldn’t help but feel that there wasn’t anything in that plan that top growers and processors weren’t doing already. If we are going to have radical improvements, we need radical changes.

The Natural Selection Foods plan to start actual product testing is an example of this kind of thinking. Moving to temperature monitoring is another. I think at PMA responsible industry members will be looking for more than just produce to buy, they will be looking for suggestions on how to build a better and safer product.

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