Thursday is Thanksgiving. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest festival, which today is recognized as one of the first Thanksgiving festivals in the colonies. For more than two centuries, individual colonies and states celebrated thanksgivings. It was not until 1863, in the middle of the civil war, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, which was to take place every year in November.
Today, about 276 million Americans celebrate the day and take part in the meal. Of course, families face their own logistical tasks that require strong nerves and a resistant will just to get all the guests to the dinner table at the right time. In addition, there is the preparation time, including shopping, hours of cooking and endless discussions about what exactly is going to be cooked. But the logistics processes behind each ingredient for the feast also require a great deal of planning and smooth control of all processes. Factors such as where the individual ingredients come from, how they are transported on the roads, and how they are produced and refined, are often forgotten when sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
While the first Thanksgiving feasts are said to have included lobsters, seals and swans on the menu, the dinner looks very different today. Needless to say, for many turkeys there is no hope of a long life, when they make such a popular Thanksgiving dish: the lives of around 45 million turkeys come to an end in the U.S. each year for Thanksgiving.
The poultry is typically grown on farms in the USA – mainly in Minnesota, North Carolina and Arkansas. What you may not know is that frozen turkeys account for about 90 percent of Thanksgiving sales. Since the number of turkeys needed is so large, it would be impractical to breed and slaughter them all within a month of Thanksgiving, so the process continues throughout the year. Turkeys are bred, slaughtered and frozen. They are stored at the right temperature until the holiday, so storage and processing facilities are needed.
Today, most non-locally sourced food is still a big black box, and we just have to hope that food safety agencies such as CDC and USDA are doing a good job. Currently, new technologies, such as blockchain, are being tested to improve the turkey´s supply chain; the birds can be tracked from farm to market and help consumers understand where they come from. This year, thanks to a blockchain solution, Cargill´s Honeysuckle White turkey customers will be able to track their turkeys back to the farm they originated from by either sending a text or simply entering an on-package code online. Farmers can add data elements to the blockchain to certify that a particular bird has been raised on their farm or that it has received a particular diet, for example.
Giving thanks to a proper supply chain
Logistics companies have to transport the turkeys from the plant to the production site and beyond. The supply chains of the food retailers must be able to send them effortlessly across the country, creating a continuous supply chain focused solely on getting the turkey from the farm to the consumer. The cold chain should not, of course, be interrupted.
The remaining 10 percent of the turkeys sold are fresh. Even faster logistics are required here. An intact cold chain also presents a major challenge for logistics processes when it comes to food safety for fresh products. For instance, in urban areas, drivers need to be careful of how many stops they make, as it can change the temperature settings in the truck.
Just a turkey? A side dish would be nice.
Well, it’s not like a real lavish Thanksgiving feast is just a turkey on the table. Depending on your taste, more side dishes can be added. According to a survey by Statista, 64% of US consumers surveyed plan to serve Thanksgiving dinner with mashed potatoes.
The fourth most important food crop after corn, rice and wheat in the world, can be grown almost anywhere. The most important limitation in growing potatoes is temperature: potatoes need a cool but frost-free growing season. At temperatures above 30°C or below 10°C, tuber growth slows considerably. The best yields are obtained when the average daily temperature is in the range of 18 – 20°C. For this reason, the potato is cultivated during spring in temperate climate zones, during late winter in warmer regions and only during the coolest months of the year in hot tropical climates. In some subtropical highlands, mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine enable farmers to grow potatoes all year round.
Since potatoes cannot be grown all year round in most locations, they must be stored for all year round availability. Fortunately, potatoes can be stored quite well if they are stored under the right conditions.
A successful Thanksgiving celebration depends a lot on the logistics behind the processes. Apart from bringing family and friends together, the success of a good Thanksgiving dinner mostly depends on the logistics processes in the food industry. Thankfully, a lot has changed since 1621: New technologies such as blockchain enable better tracking of goods and facilitate fast communication between the various supply chain partners. With this in mind, many thanks to the drivers who spend countless hours on the road to provide our feast and to the warehouse managers who maintain the cold chain of the frozen turkeys.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
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