Are you a supplier or distributor of food products and particularly those which are perishable, chilled or frozen? Food temperature monitoring is crucial for the safe and effective transport of your food. If you are you will know the regulations that exist for temperature control and you will understand the importance of keeping food cool and safe. Businesses in the food industry are required to implement and document a comprehensive food safety programme. This will ensure that food is safe to consume by the time it reaches the customer. Many food items need to be transported from manufacturers and suppliers to restaurants and food businesses where they are prepared and/or sold to customers.

In the event that a food safety incident does occur, you will need to demonstrate that it did not originate from your business. This will include:

  • Demonstrating that the vehicles you used to transport the food items did not at any stage allow the food to become unsafe for consumption. This means transporting the food properly in suitable temperature-controlled vehicles.
  • Showing written procedures of the system that you implement to ensure that food is safe during the transportation process
  • Providing verification that employees are properly trained in good food safety standards particularly in terms of keeping food at the right temperature and that recommended practices for the transportation of the food product were followed
  • Proving that the food was maintained at the correct temperature throughout its journey

Although food safety incidents should be rare, they can sometimes happen and as a food business, it is your responsibility to make sure that all of the recommended procedures are implemented, and procedures followed.

The supply chain for fresh and perishable products is a complex one with multiple stages and people involved. If inconsistencies in temperature occur at any point along the journey, the safety and quality of the food item are at risk of being compromised.

The introduction of automated, real-time temperature checking and monitoring has made things much easier with vehicles being able to detect and adjust the temperature throughout the journey to maintain the correct temperature. There are also practices that you can implement for temperature monitoring to make sure that you comply with the regulations.

These include:

  • The development of suitable pre-cooling processes – Before the food is transported it should be pre-cooled by suppliers to ensure that the temperature can be maintained during the journey to its destination. This can have a significant impact on the quality, safety and shelf life of the product.
  • Correct vehicle loading – Fresh and perishable food items should be carefully loaded into the vehicle in a way that allows air to flow around the items and through the container that the food is being transported in. The containers should never be filled above the maximum load line and the packaging that the products are in should be designed to promote airflow.
  • Good temperature monitoring – Whether you are using your own vehicles or a dedicated company that supply temperature-controlled vehicles, correct temperatures should be clearly communicated. An experienced company will know the recommended temperatures, but it is always good practice to notify the distributor at the start of each delivery. Digital temperature monitoring tools should be placed inside of vehicles, whether these are manual or automatic. Recording procedures should be implemented to maintain accuracy and consistency at all points in the journey. Once products reach the intended destination whether this is a food business or distribution centre, the items should be carefully checked to make sure that the recommended temperature ranges haven’t been breached both upon delivery or at any point during the journey.

Continuous monitoring is important to maintain the highest of safety standards

Best practice for vehicles

When fresh or perishable food items are transported in temperature-controlled vehicles, steps should be implemented to maintain the temperature. These include monitoring the:

  • Air temperature of the vehicle
  • Airflow and relative humidity
  • The temperature of the product(s) when they are entered into the vehicle and removed
  • Loading levels
  • Space between containers and/or products
  • The length of time it takes to load and unload the vehicle and the frequency that this takes place

All of these points should be documented in your Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan and limits should be established to ensure full and consistent compliance.

Refrigerated vehicles should be well designed and feature good quality insulation as well as airtight door seals, watertight flooring, efficient refrigeration systems and temperature indicators that can be viewed in the driver’s cab. This will ensure that immediate action can be taken if the temperature falls into the danger zone. It also allows the driver to make sure that the temperature has remained consistent throughout the journey.

Purpose-built temperature-controlled vehicles will be fitted with a thermometer and these will often give a reading reflective of the air temperature, rather than the actual temperature of the food items in the vehicle. Product temperature can be accurately monitored with handheld devices and the required temperatures recorded in the HACCP plan.

Vehicles should also be designed to reduce the likelihood of condensation forming anywhere inside the vehicle or creating an environment that could promote the growth of mould.

Condensation should be strictly controlled in these types of vehicles because moisture, even the smallest amounts can encourage the growth of bacteria on the surface of food items, particularly meat products. Condensation can be reduced by increasing insulation and promoting air circulations to reduce humidity levels.

When it comes to transporting food, it is crucial that best practice is consistently followed. Businesses should have well-documented systems and processes for the transportation of fresh and perishable food products. Failure to do so can result in serious and significant implications for any type of food business, from financial penalties and notices through to closure in the most serious cases.

Compliance with the law is important and the implementation of comprehensive HACCP procedures should be routine as part of your wider food and health and safety policy. Food businesses have an obligation to keep their customers safe and the use of temperature-controlled vehicles and implementation of best practices can achieve this.