Perishables are vulnerable – especially if they are being flown long-distances and are exposed to diverse and perhaps extreme temperature differences. Luxembourg-based NPO, Cool Chain Association (CCA), constantly looks for best practices and improvement solutions when it comes to preserving shelf life.
Or “vase life”, since a series of trials tracking cut flower exports from farms in South Africa to tables/vases in Europe were recently carried out in by the South African CCA partner, the
Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB). The PPECB provides for the control of perishable products intended for export from the Republic of South Africa and has its own in-house research
department, analyzing quality and food safety standards.
The data from these trials is to be consolidated into best practice handling procedures for perishables. A task the Cool Chain Association has taken upon itself. “The handling procedure can be used to train staff to mitigate risks and increase the vase life of flowers and the shelf life of other perishables. The CCA is looking for implementable solutions that the industry can easily initiate,” said Chetty Vijan, CCA Board Member and General Manager, PPECB.
Highlighting risk areas affecting vase life
At the air cargo Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa recently, Vijan Chetty described the goal of the trials: “Trials over the past few years have focused primarily on the final mile of a specific trade lane. We will be looking at farm to table or vase across a trade lane, and not only focusing on monitoring the temperature of the product, but also aiming to identify all areas where shelf life could be influenced, including, for example, post-harvest practices, packaging and palletization, and the functionality of cold storage.”
Impact of temperature excursions
The trials that were carried out together with South African wholesale flower nursery and exporter, Arnelia Farms, tracked Sunshine Conebush flower consignments packed on-farm near Hopefield in the Western Cape province of South Africa, and headed for destinations in the Netherlands and Germany. Air temperature loggers were attached to two shipments sent two days apart to monitor variations in cold chain conditions. The flowers were packed in boxes and palletized on-farm before being loaded onto a refrigerated truck and travelling two hours to get to the courier service provider. They took off for Europe the following day. Though recommended transport temperature was given as 5°C, the loggers revealed that, on average, temperatures reached 10.4° centigrade and 9.3°c. Despite these fluctuations, the flowers did not seem to have suffered, through these flowers would likely wilt more quickly in the vase as a result of the temperature excursions.
MoU and analysis
Following the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CCA and the PPECB, the CCA plans to review the research trials, analyze the activities of stakeholders within the value chain, and identify possible risk areas. These will all feed into the draft of a best practice handling procedure for perishable products. “Quality handling practices and cool chain management are an integrated process that cannot be reviewed in isolation and this trial already shows that post-harvest handling and the first mile of every product plays an important role in determining a product's quality,” Chetty enunciated. “Future PPECB trials will also include a focus on the final mile of the product from when the consumer makes the purchase and takes it home.”
More trials with other perishables
PPECB is planning more, similar trials of fast moving perishable items such as berries, and will compare the cool chain, shelf life, and quality of commodities moved by air versus sea. Stavros Evangelakakis, CCA Chair and Head of Global Healthcare, Cargolux, said: “CCA members are focused on collaborating to find tangible ways of improving the quality of the temperature-controlled supply chain. By working with the PPECB on the results of their trials, we can go one step further in helping the industry to reduce perishables waste.”
“CCA's recent initiatives include the establishment of a Technical Committee to drive projects, which will benefit the cool supply chain, including a Risk Management project and a trial of a new perishables label,” the press release summarizes.
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