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Special Feature: Temperature monitors

Devices help measure quality and establish trust at every step of the supply chain

By Melissa Wood
October 01, 2012

Temperature monitoring is important along the supply chain, and it matters as soon as seafood comes out of the water. Mark Buckley, president of Digital Observer in Seattle, has been working to improve the quality of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon for 10 years. He was also a fisherman in Alaska for 20 years. 

“One of the most important days I spent in my life was at Cooke Aquaculture,” says Buckley, referring to the Canadian farmed salmon operation’s efficient and streamlined procedures for killing, bleeding and bringing the fish to the plant. “Just watching this whole process and comparing that to what my life had been out at sea in Alaska and seeing how different it was in New Brunswick was a huge eye-opener, and I realized that we had to get our act together in Alaska to compete with these guys.”

Buckley says current fishery management techniques and handling procedures have improved quality, which continues to get better each year. In those efforts, temperature has played a big yet easily fixable role. 

“In the old days fishermen got paid more for chilled fish,” remembers Buckley. “What some would do was turn on the chiller when they came in to deliver. That’s kind of cute, but let’s face it, it doesn’t help the industry or the fishermen. Everybody needs to pull equally and so we have to hold fishermen accountable.”

To do this, Buckley recommends the HOBO by Onset Computer Corp. The cylindrical device can be dropped into fish holds where it logs the temperature in increments and generates a report that fishermen give to the processing plants along with their catch. “You know you’re being watched, you know you’re being measured, and if you can measure it, you can change it,” says Buckley. 

Temperature-monitoring systems help those further down the supply chain, too. DeltaTRAK’s ThermoTrace Time Temperature Indicator system includes labels and an alert service to track temperatures from the warehouse to the consumer. The Saf-T-Log by ThermoWorks is a handheld thermometer that allows quick, paperless recording of temperatures that can be downloaded when the device is connected to a PC. It also has water-resistant housing so it can be used safely within a commercial kitchen and other rugged environments. 

Wherever seafood goes it needs to be kept cold, and that can include unusual places. ACR Systems in Surrey, British Columbia, has a variety of temperature monitoring systems for both portable and fixed installations that can be used in everything from large seafood plants to retail display cases. During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver an ACR System was used to monitor walk-in coolers and freezers, preventing food-borne illnesses so that curling, but no hurling, took place on the ice. 

Fisherman and direct marketer Bill Webber Jr. uses ACR’s Smart Button in his efforts to deliver the highest quality Copper River salmon possible. 

“There’s a lot of things I do in my operation above and beyond the industry model, and I put a lot of work and effort into it to keep this fish as pristine as possible,” says Webber, a 44-year fisherman and owner of Gulkana Seafoods Direct in Cordova, Alaska, which sells fresh Copper River salmon to high-end restaurants in the Lower 48. 

Also a boat builder, Webber engineered the 31-foot Gulkana into a mini catcher-processor. As soon as fish are on board, he bleeds, heads and guts his catch then offloads in Cordova within two hours after the close of an opener. (The Gulkana sank last year, and Webber’s new gillnetter Paradigm Shift promises to be even more state-of-the-art.)

Though the next step is shipping, it does not mean letting go. When customers open the package, they uncover fish, 8 pounds of gel-pack ice and a Smart Button.

Less than 1 inch across, the waterproof device can be set to record temperatures at intervals from 1 to 255 minutes. When the shipment is complete, users get a graph showing all of the recorded temperatures by plugging the device into a computer with a USB cord. 

“It’s helped build and instill more trust. That’s a very key element in doing business in the seafood business, gaining that trust,” says Webber. “Those devices have helped me tell my story and prove my story.” 

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com 

Click on the animated cover below to read the full digital issue.  

October 2012 - SeaFood Business      

 

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