In the battle to maintain both freshness and government compliance, time-temperature indicators (TTIs) are one of those tools that every commissary and supply-chain professional should employ, and a number of different kinds have been developed depending on the foods, shipping times and budget you’re working with.  

“Customers use our products for documenting compliance with local and global regulations, such as HACCP and FSMA,” says Fred Wu, president and CEO of DeltaTrak, which in addition to their cutting-edge ThermoTrace time-temperature indicators, develops and manufactures cold chain management, food safety, environmental monitoring, and ethylene control solutions.

“Our goal is to help customers maintain food safety standards and extend shelf life so they can deliver fresh, high quality products that are safe to eat, while also reducing shrinkage and ultimately increasing their profits,” he says.

And with the increase in government scrutiny on foodborne illness, TTIs have seen a series of new innovations, with a wide range of bells and whistles available depending on how much you want to get out of them.

“Just one incidence of foodborne illness that is traced back to a store can damage its brand name and reputation,” Wu points out, “and this causes loss of customers and customer confidence, which translates to loss of income, and can even drive small stores out of business.”

And he isn’t the only one who’s been thinking about all of these recent incidents and recalls, either. With the federal government now trying to track down a backlog of foodborne illness outbreaks, any that happen at your facility now could lead to your being held responsible — and possibly criminally charged — for any that might have occurred in the past. And TTIs can be a critical tool in avoiding this potentially devastating event.

“Although TTIs have been around for a few years, they gained momentum when they were recommended for ground beef processing in new federal guidelines from the Food Safety Inspection Service,” says John Wadie, US marketing operations manager at 3M Food Safety Technology. “Our adhesive-backed TTI, called MonitorMark, indicates any departure from safe temperature ranges and can be used for meat, poultry, seafood, produce, live plants, and most other temperature-sensitive commodities. The technology employs color indicators to show the amount of temperature exposure of a stored or shipped temperature-sensitive commodity, and the dots on the tag change from green to yellow as the product’s life span decreases.”

MonitorMark’s adhesive strip will track a product’s temperature and environment on or outside of its packaging, or on the pallet it’s being shipped with. It’s most valuable quality is its ease of use, Wadie says. “MonitorMark is an easy-to-use TTI that can be readily applied to a variety of secondary packaging. It has a read-out that is easy to see and interpret, which minimizes errors in determining when a product has been subject to temperatures outside of their normal range.”

They have an irreversible blue indicator that shows not only if a product has been exposed to temperatures higher than its pre-set safety range, but for how long that exposure occurred, and can monitor its designated product for up to 50 hours through the supply chain. The strip’s indicator is set in motion as soon as you remove its film activation strip, and will turn blue within 24 hours of being exposed to unsafe temperatures. The color will continue to spread down the strip through four panels in accordance to how long the exposure lasted, though it should be noted that a brief amount of time at a very high temperature will show similar results to a long amount of time at a lower one.

But if you’re looking for a TTI with more bells and whistles, that can be integrated into your supply-chain management more technologically and accessed by anyone within your company at any given point, then something like DeltaTrak’s ThermoTrace may be more up your alley.

The ThermoTrace TTI is unique in that it is a cloud-based system using a barcode. Anyone along the supply chain can scan that barcode with their smartphone and track its entire journey, as well as what temperatures it was held in at any given point along the way. You can even add pictures of the product to verify it’s still frozen, for example, and scan additional barcodes associated with it, with all of this allowing for a live, continuous history of the product’s condition throughout its entire trip to the retailer.

And like MonitorMark, ThermoTrace can also be applied on the inside or outside of packaging and pallets, and is guaranteed to last the duration of a product’s travel time to its end retailer.

“If the product is exposed to temperature conditions above that threshold, the barcode will change to indicate there has been thermal abuse,” Wu says. “There are two levels of time-temperature that can be indicated by the barcode: when the threshold is breached, and when the threshold has been breached for an accumulated time of four hours or more. Anyone along the cold chain route can read the results at the time the shipment is in their possession by scanning the barcode with a free app on their smartphone. TTI data is uploaded to a secure account on a cloud-based server, and can be remotely viewed by authorized personnel within the company. This system will also send out alerts by email and SMS text message to designated staff if there is a temperature excursion. Each scan has data, time and location coordinates, as well as identification of the person reading the label. This creates an audit trail as the product is shipped through the cold chain.”

And of course, having everything on backup in the cloud can come in handy for a commissary should something go wrong during a FSMA audit, not to mention being able to know the state of your product should something come up during its transportation to your end retailers.

“Data collection and analysis is key,” Wu says, “and cloud-based solutions are an efficient tool for reviewing, sharing and archiving information so that management can use it to make critical cold chain decisions.”