Crying Over Spilled Milk: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic on Food Waste

Tags: Risk Management, Food Logistics, Technology

Food waste has historically been one of the biggest challenges in supply chain management, with about 1.3 billion tons of food being lost or going to waste each year. But the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the true extent of the vulnerabilities when the world changed and brought widespread shortages. Produce went bad waiting for trucks to pick it up. Meat processing plants were shut down over outbreaks and farmers across the country were forced to dump milk because wholesale demands from the restaurant industry dried up.

Food Supply Chain issues

Before COVID-19, the main cause for food loss during transit was a result of poor quality control during last mile delivery. But the pandemic brought to light how fixed and inflexible processes have evolved, so much so that when true disruption occurs, there’s little guidance or capacity to adapt.

As the world begins to open up again, we can reflect on how the crisis created pressures on our entire logistics system. Product distribution became choppy, bulk delivery of goods needed to be repackaged for retail, and demand for products that require temperature control, such as food and pharmaceuticals, increased dramatically. These changes created longer delivery times and gaps in transport due to the strain on supply chain assets.

Any type of delay presents a danger to quality control, as temperature changes or prolonged storage in unsuitable conditions will lead to spoilage. The pandemic made many understand the importance of having a fully outfitted fleet with the ability to control temperatures to reduce waste, and why visibility of assets at all times is even more critical.

Lessons Learned

What we learned from the pandemic crisis was that having the right technologies implemented was the difference between days or weeks to reroute, reschedule, repack and reorganize goods to ensure delivery at a pre-COVID-19 standard. It meant the difference between picking up goods before they spoiled, or arriving with a truck full of food that had gone bad during transit. The fleets that have technology in place to communicate with drivers, manage their routes, send alerts, know where trailers are to reallocate them quickly, and things like remote command and control of their reefers were the ones who not only survived, but were able to thrive during and after COVID-19. With visibility into all the potential challenges, fleets could be that much more efficient and aware of their operations and thus react and plan accordingly.

Beyond waste, technology was also critical to the human element of the supply chain, ensuring all those working at every point of transit were protected against the spread of the virus. By reducing process deviations and inefficiencies, there was a reduction in potential exposure points for drivers, enabling them to stay in cab at all times, and in essence this created a form of fleet social distancing.

Technology has played a pivotal role in the evolution of the supply chain and if we take these lessons away from this experience of adapting in near-real time, we can make true change for better industry standards in quality control. We’ve experienced what it means to have to repurpose assets in the system, to coordinate hundreds if not thousands of moving variables in the supply chain, and we’ve come to learn this requires extraordinary transparency and communication for all those moving parts and players. We’ve set a higher bar that we will need to continue to raise, and we can do this through newer technology and better use of technology.






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