Tracking trial aims to improve perishables transport

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by Emily Atkins

The Cool Chain Association (CCA) plans to draft a best practice handling procedure for perishables based on a series of trials tracking perishables exports from farm to table – or vase – undertaken by CCA partner the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB).

A PPECB pilot trial monitoring cut flower exports from South Africa to Europe traveling last month, has already highlighted the impact of temperature excursions on vase life, according to Vijan Chetty, CCA board member and general manager, PPECB.

The trial was conducted in collaboration with Arnelia Farms, a South African wholesale flower nursery and exporter, and 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.

Full journey tracking

“Trials over the past few years have focused primarily on the final mile of a specific trade lane,” said Chetty, speaking at the Air Cargo Africa Event in Johannesburg, South Africa, in February.

“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.”

CCA, which recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the PPECB, will be reviewing the research trials, analyzing the activities of stakeholders within the value chain, and identifying possible risk areas, in order to draft a best practice handling procedure for perishable products.

“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,” said Chetty. “The CCA is looking for implementable solutions that the industry can easily initiate.”

Monitoring variations

The PPECB pilot trial used air temperature loggers on two consignments sent two days apart to monitor variations in cold chain conditions.

Flower consignments were packed in boxes and palletized on-farm, then loaded on a refrigerated truck before taking a two-hour journey to the courier service provider. The consignments were exported the next day to Europe.

Results showed that mean temperatures reached 10.4°c and 9.3°c for the two consignments, considerably higher than the 5°c recommended for cut flowers.

Graph shows temperature logs for the duration of the trial for Consignment 1 with trip events highlighted: Circle insert – Loading onto truck and transportation to the airport, A – Consignment received by Courier, B – Departure from Cape Town International Airport, C – Arrival at destination airport, and D – Delivery to client. Credit PPECB.

Although the flowers arrived in acceptable condition, vase life will have been affected by this temperature excursion.

“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,” said Chetty.

“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.”

Additional trials

PPECB will now undertake trials to include other fast moving perishable items such as berries, and will move on to compare the cool chain, shelf life, and quality of commodities moved by air versus sea.

“CCA members are focused on collaborating to find tangible ways of improving the quality of the temperature-controlled supply chain,” said Stavros Evangelakakis, CCA Chair and Head of Global Healthcare, Cargolux.

“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 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.