News Feature | June 26, 2014

Cold Chain: Keeping Fresh Food Safe

Source: Food Online
Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis

Cold Chain Fresh Food Food Safety

People love to eat, and are increasingly demanding their food is fresh. Not only do consumers want fresh food, they want assurance that their foods and ingredients have been handled properly from the farm or factory all the way to the supermarket

Almost all agricultural products sold to consumers are perishable; once a product is harvested, it begins to decay. However, the decay process can be slowed by proper handling and preservation techniques. “Keeping food fresh involves controlling the environment where the food is kept,” says Daniel Gudahl, chief of party at Winrock International.

What's The Impact Of Big Data In The Cold Chain?

Gudahl is a firm believer in the cold chain extending the shelf life of food. By definition, a cold chain is “a system of preserving perishable agricultural products using a temperature controlled supply chain thereby decreasing agricultural losses,” says Gudahl. Included in the cold chain are refrigerator, refrigerated box trucks, reefer containers, walk-in coolers and freezers, and cold storage units within supermarkets. Almost all products can benefit from entering a cold chain. Fruits, vegetables, pork, beef, poultry, fish, and eggs all deteriorate over time. But exposure to low temperatures through all phases of handling slows that decay down. “Building effective cold chains make it easier to produce safer food, and safer food means an increase in income for farmers and improved nutrition for families,” according to the Philippine Cold Chain Project (PCCP).

Atmosphere, humidity, and temperature are all aspects that determine a perishable item’s rate of decay. “Keeping food cool, cold or frozen is one way to keep food fresh,” says Gudahl. “When food is harvested, freshness can be preserved by immediately chilling the produce. This can be done by using refrigeration, freezers, hydro cooling, and evaporation.” Harvesting crops at the correct times also helps ensure freshness. Gudahl continues, “Fruits, such as bananas or apples, give off ethylene gas when in storage. Ethylene gas hastens the ripening process. Large food cold stores use controlled atmosphere to put fruit to sleep and to wake it up.” Cold store can help remove Ethylene gas from the atmosphere, or it can be used to in conjunction with produce to help expedite the ripening process. To help ensure that perishable food products remain fresh, Gudahl advises:

  • Keep fruits and vegetables hydrated. Both items are made of mostly water. Loss of water can affect not only appearance and nutritional value, but also the weight and monetary value of the product
  • Fish, meat, and poultry should be kept cool or chilled throughout its trip from being harvested to arriving on consumers’ tables
  • A constant temperature should be maintained in all aspects of handling. Varying temperatures also accelerate the decay process of produce.

Improving Quality Assurance In The Meat And Seafood Cold Chain

Once a food producer understands how valuable investments in the cold chain can be, that producer can begin penetrating international markets with perishable products. Gudahl elaborates, “Higher-quality, higher-value agricultural products will be able to compete in new markets as businesses and consumers demand products meeting international-quality standards. Educating producers about clean, well-preserved food, moreover, means families will not be debilitated by preventable illness.”