A look into its own cold-chain management is leading U.S. Foodservice to look for an industrywide solution to cold-chain issues.

The Rosemont, Ill.-based foodservice supply and distribution company started putting time and temperature recorders in its trucks, its suppliers’ trucks and third-party trucks in 2007 to track what was happening along the supply chain for its exclusive-branded products.

Cross Valley Farms is its brand of produce.

“The more temperature variations you subject produce to has a huge impact on quality,” said Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president of food safety and quality assurance for U.S. Foodservice. “We were trying to understand the chain, and now we have a very good idea what the chain is like and what we need to work on.”

There’s quite a bit to work on.

Hernandez said the cold chain was more likely to be compromised in hotter areas of the country, during warmer times of the year, and on trucks coming to a U.S. Foodservice distribution center, rather than truck leaving the warehouse.

When gasoline prices rose during the past two years, some truckers, more often third-party truckers, tried to save money by turning off refrigeration units, the study found.

“They would get it cold, turn it off, then turn it on again when they delivered,” Hernandez said. “Depending on the time of year, the temperature of the product would change. But when you take that product, you have no idea what happened to it before.”

A common issue was product not being protected from freezer to refrigerator, so refrigerated product was getting frozen and frozen product was thawing, Hernandez said.

 “We’re trying to address what are the different things that happen in suppliers’ trucks, or on our trucks, or on third-party trucks,” Hernandez said. “The issues we found with fuel were especially with third-party trucks.”

U.S. Foodservice is also looking into issues with loading and unloading, where the truck products are placed, what happens when the trucks make multiple stops and whether using bulk heads helps.

To do that, the company is planning to use more recorders in more locations on trucks.

“It’s not only to find a root cause of the issues, but also to find solutions that can be executed,” Hernandez said. “TTRs are only monitoring, and that’s just a first step.”

The next step is to expand the study and start testing possible solutions.

“So what happens within the next year is we’ll start digging in some specific areas of the supply chain to see where the issues are and what we can do to eliminate them,” Hernandez said.

The company is looking to partner with at least one other party to commission the study, likely a university or other research entity, Hernandez said. They should have a partner before the end of the year.

“We’re looking to partner with a couple other guys to give us credibility. Someone with expertise,” Hernandez said. “Not only institutions and universities, but we’re also talking to folks who have a vested interest — manufacturers who might want a solution.”

After a more extensive study, U.S. Foodservice plans to share its results with the industry.

“Our goal is to share all the information with our suppliers, because they’re not only supplying our products, but also their own products,” Hernandez said. “We also want to share this with the industry at large. Food safety should be something we should speak with everybody about because we are all hurt when it doesn’t happen.”

Getting the information out is another reason for an external partnership, Hernandez said.

“We don’t believe there’s going to be a silver bullet, but multiple little bullets,” Hernandez said.