Importance Of Cold Chain In National Agro Economy
Extension efforts and training needs to differ by target group, and there are often difficulties in reaching smallholder farmers, women, youth, middlemen/traders and processors. Traders and middlemen have been generally ignored...
Global food losses have been documented to be on the order of 25% to 50% of production volumes, caloric content and/or market values depending on the commodity (Lipinski et al, 2013; Gustavsson et al 2011; IIR 2009). The use of "cold" handling and storage systems as an investment to prevent perishable food losses is widely used in developed countries and can be highly cost effective compared to continually increasing production to meet increasing demands for these foods. The use of cold technologies in the development of agricultural supply chains for meat, dairy, fish and horticultural products in the USA and EU countries began the early 1950s along with the growth of the mechanical refrigeration industry, but cold chains are still limited in most developing countries.
There are many technical, logistical and investment challenges as well as economic opportunities related to the use of the cold chain. The primary segments of an integrated cold chain include 1) packing and cooling fresh food products, 2) food processing (i.e. freezing of certain processed foods, 3) cold storage (short or long term warehousing of chilled or frozen foods), 4) distribution (cold transport and temporary warehousing under temperature controlled conditions) and 5) marketing (refrigerated or freezer storage and displays at wholesale markets, retail markets and foodservice operations). Policy makers in the agriculture, energy, education and food sectors must work together to promote the use of cold chain technology, improve logistics, maintenance, services, infrastructure, education and management skills, and create sustainable markets for the design, use and funding of cold chains for reducing perishable food losses.
There are many technical, logistical and investment challenges as well as economic opportunities related to the use of the cold chain. The primary segments of an integrated cold chain include 1) packing and cooling fresh food products, 2) food processing (i.e., freezing of certain processed foods, 3) cold storage (short or long term warehousing of chilled or frozen foods), 4) distribution (cold transport and temporary warehousing under temperature controlled conditions) and 5) marketing (refrigerated or freezer storage and displays at wholesale markets, retail markets and foodservice operations). Policy makers in the agriculture, energy, education and food sectors must work together to promote the use of cold chain technology, improve logistics, maintenance, services, infrastructure, education and management skills, and create sustainable markets for the design, use and funding of cold chains for reducing perishable food losses.
Fresh foods continue to metabolize and consume their nutrients throughout their shelf life, from harvest or slaughter through packing, distribution, marketing and sale. Carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients are broken down into simpler compounds often resulting in reduced quality or quantity of the foods, through respiration, enzymatic breakdown and microbial degradation. All of these processes are highly dependent upon temperature.
As is the case for all biological processes, the higher the temperature the faster these natural degradation processes will occur, leading to loss of color, flavor, nutrients and texture changes. In fact, as a general rule, most of these degradation processes double their rate for each increase of 10°C (known as the Q10 quotient, which is illustrated in more detail below). For example, maintaining a food’s temperature at 10°C colder than the temperature commonly experienced when handled during ambient conditions can double the shelf life of that food. Lowering temperature does have some exceptions, since some fresh horticultural perishables are susceptible to chilling injury below about 10°C (most of the tropical and sub-tropical crops) and all fresh horticultural perishables will freeze below about -1°C.
In addition to physiological deterioration, foods may host micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi which can cause molds, rots or decays, and are subject to water loss which results in wilting, shriveling or darkening. Both the rate of microbial growth and the rate of water loss occur more rapidly as temperature increases. Few other interventions can so dramatically maintain the visual quality and nutritional value, and increase shelf life and ultimate market value of fresh foods as much as simply holding the foods at a lower temperature.
Cooling provides the following benefits for perishable horticultural foods:
• Reduces respiration: lessens perishability
• Reduces transpiration: lessens water loss, less shriveling
• Reduces ethylene production: slows ripening
• Increases resistance to ethylene action
• Decreases activity of micro-organisms
• Reduces browning and loss of texture, flavour and nutrients
• Delays ripening and natural senescence
In general, the Q10 coefficient (an indication of the relative rate of respiration at 10°C intervals) can be used for fresh foods to estimate the shelf life under different temperature conditions.
Use of cold chains
A cold chain for perishable foods is the uninterrupted handling of the product within a low temperature environment during the postharvest steps of the value chain including harvest, collection, packing, processing, storage, transport and marketing until it reaches the final consumer. An integrated cold chain encompasses the management of the movement of perishable food products from the field, ranch or body of water through the entire postharvest chain to the final consumer. The primary segments of an integrated cold chain, which include 1) packing and cooling fresh food products, 2) food processing (i.e., freezing of certain processed foods, 3) cold storage (short or long term warehousing of chilled or frozen foods), 4) distribution (cold transport and temporary warehousing under temperature controlled conditions) and 5) marketing (refrigerated or freezer storage and displays at wholesale markets, retail markets and foodservice operations) can be simple or complex, low tech or high tech. Cold chain logistics is the planning and management of the interactions and transitions between these five segments, in order to keep foods at their optimum temperature for maintenance of quality, food safety and prevention of waste and economic losses. Speed is often the key to success when handling and marketing perishable foods using a cold supply chain (Kohli 2010).
The cold chain is a well-known method for reducing food losses and food waste, and has long been promoted by established industry focused organizations such as The International Institute of Refrigeration (www.iifiir.org), The World Food Logistics Organization (www.wflo.org) and the Global Cold Chain Alliance (www.gcca.org). The required infrastructure and investments in needed facilities, equipment and management skills, however, are generally lacking in developing countries. Policy studies on food make very little mention of "postharvest" aspects of agriculture in major new reports on farming or small and medium scale enterprise (SME) policy coming from international donors and grant-makers. Recent examples include the FAO's State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 and IFPRI's Food Security, Farming, and Climate Change to 2050: Scenarios, results and policy options, which when searched provide no references to postharvest problems, cold chain issues, opportunities or policy options. The UNFAO/UNIDO manual on Agro-Industries for Development (da Silva et al 2009) mentions the term “cold chain” only once in a comprehensive work of 270 pages.
The UN FAO recently launched the SAVE FOOD Initiative which includes many partner organizations working on various means for reducing food losses and waste. One of the top priorities cited by the Global Harvest Initiative report on measuring global agricultural productivity was "Improving food system infrastructure and processing to benefit agricultural products distribution and minimize waste" (GHI 2010; p. 8). The report concludes that significant public and private investments in capital and infrastructure will be required along the entire food chain. Reports on the postharvest sector and its contributions to economic development (Mrema & Rolle 2002; Kader 2006; Winrock 2009) leave no doubt as to its importance and cost effectiveness, yet introducing a cold chain in a developing country requires the integration of a great many different elements and the continuing management of those elements. Unfortunately, most aid donors and grant programs have tended to focus on establishment of stand-alone cold storage or food processing facilities or projects rather than focusing on the longer term management of those investments and the maintenance of an integrated cold chain.
Selecting appropriate cooling technologies for use in the cold chain
There is a wide range of options and technologies for producing cold conditions for food handling, processing, storage and transport. Some are relatively simple and inexpensive, while other technologies intended to achieve the same results are more sophisticated and complex to manage. For precooling, operators can choose from simple farm-based methods such as using ice, to more complex systems for forced air, hydro-cooling or vacuum cooling. For storage, there are options for food handlers that range from small walk-in cold rooms to large scale commercial refrigerated warehouses. Small-scale cold rooms can be designed using traditional mechanical refrigeration systems, low cost CoolBot™ equipped air-conditioner based systems (see detail below), or as evaporative cool chambers. Food processors can choose from chillers, blast freezing, IQF, freeze drying and many other technologies. During transport, cold can be provided via the use of ice, trailer mounted refrigeration systems, evaporative coolers or via passive cooling technologies (insulated packages or pallets covers during transport).
The suitability of these options will depend upon the food products being handled and the level of sophistication of the value chain. Kitinoja and Thompson (2010) and Winrock International (2009) have reviewed the cooling practices utilized during pre-cooling and cold storage for horticultural crops. These documents provide basic recommendations on cooling options and information regarding capital costs and energy use for small-scale, medium scale and larger scale operations. In general, the highest cost will be for mechanical refrigeration systems using electricity or diesel fuel where temperatures are the hottest, but the benefits of using cold chain technologies can still outweigh costs, since it is in these regions where food losses due to lack of temperature management are the highest. Evaporative cooling systems work well only in dry regions or during the dry seasons when the relative humidity is low. Total construction and operating costs for refrigerated systems will vary widely depending on the costs of local materials, labor and electricity. Postharvest losses can be greatly reduced with the use of cold storage, but the ROI for any specific operation will always depend largely upon the market value of the food commodities being cooled and stored and the use efficiency of the facility (i.e. whether or not it is operated at full capacity).
Evaporative cooling: Lowering temperature of fresh horticultural produce via systems utilizing the evaporation of water to 2-3°C above the ambient dew point temperature. Evaporative cool storage rooms are commonly used for bulk storage of tropical and sub-tropical crops (such as sweet potatoes) or as small-scale cool chambers for temporary storage of fruits and vegetables in tropical climates, and work best in dry climates or during the dry season. Evaporative coolers can be passive (zero energy) or assisted (using a solar powered or electric fan to move air through the storage chamber).
Training and capacity building for cold chain development
A recent review of cold chain development points out that "Even in many regions or sites where adequate infrastructure is available, overall knowledge of proper cold chain practices, maintenance (including availability of spare parts), and applications are weak in most of the developing world, and it is generally worst in facilities owned or operated by government than in facilities owned or operated privately" (Yahia, 2010). Yahia (2010) also reports, "There has been reasonable growth in cold chain infrastructure in Morocco, Egypt, and lately in Libya, but in all [developing countries] there is still major room for growth and much great efforts to improve capacity training to form better technicians and to improve applications."
Extension efforts and training needs to differ by target group, and there are often difficulties in reaching smallholder farmers, women, youth, middlemen/traders and processors. Traders and middlemen have been generally ignored although they have a large impact on temperature management during handling and transport, and therefore upon the final quality of foods and their potential market value. Future extension efforts should seek to include this group of men and women in efforts aimed at adopting the use of the cold chain (Kitinoja et al 2011).
Training topics should include:
• Commodity systems assessment s (identifying the causes and sources of losses)
• Basic practices for reducing losses for perishable foods intended for cold storage
• Technical subjects along the cold chain (postharvest handling, refrigeration, cold storage, cold transport, food processing, etc.)
• Value chain development (processes and practices)
• Management topics (managing labor, equipment, finances, risk, marketing, etc.)
• Logistics (interactive complexities of managing a cold chain system)
• Engineering (including design, modifications, repairs, maintenance of cold technologies)
• Food safety issues (including the potential impact of poor food safety)
• Environmental issues
• Energy efficiency
Capacity-building efforts undertaken in cold chain technology must be made more comprehensive, and include technical knowledge on handling practices, research skills, access to tools and supplies, cost/benefit information, extension skill development (training needs assessment, teaching methods, advocacy), internet/web access, use of IT and cell phones for information sharing and provision of follow-up mentoring for young scientists and extension workers after formal training programs have been completed (Kitinoja et al 2011). And since training and capacity building needs will shift over time as changes occur in agricultural value chains and cold chains, continual formative evaluation to improve programs is needed to ensure capacity building efforts continue to meet the needs of target audiences.
Conclusions and recommendations
The use of cold is not a cure-all or a one-size-fits-all proposition, but is an important component of an agricultural handling system or value chain in its entirety. Each type of fresh produce and/or food product has a specific and limited storage potential related to its physiological nature and lowest safe storage temperature, and the use of the cold chain can help reach this potential and reduce perishable food losses. Misuse of cold will lead to higher food losses along with added financial losses associated with the costs of cooling, cold storage, cold transport and refrigerated retail market displays.
At present, the term “cold chain” is used interchangeably when referring to a value chain for fresh tropical produce (at 12 to 18°C), chilled fresh produce and food products (at 0 to 4°C), or frozen food products (at -18°C). Costs are much lower, however, when investing in and utilizing a cool chain for fresh tropical and sub-tropical produce, this difference needs to be better understood by public sector planners and private sector investors.
The term “cool chain” should be used when describing the agricultural value chain for handling and distribution of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. Cool chain investments in simple, low cost technologies such as evaporative pre-cooling, zero energy cool chambers and night-time ventilated cool storage structures are cost effective and easy to manage, leading to increased profits.
At present, the use of the cold chain is often avoided by food producers, handlers and marketers due to its perceived high cost. Yet when 25 to 50% of foods are wasted after the harvest, the real cost of production is much higher than it should be. Using "cold" as an investment to prevent food losses can be highly cost effective in comparison to continually increasing production to meet increasing demands for foods. Information on the costs of using the cold chain and on the expected benefits in terms of increased volumes of food available for sale, increased market value and improved nutritional value should be gathered and made readily available to potential users and investors.
Most developing countries currently lack the basic infrastructure and educational program needed to support the development of an integrated cold chain for distribution of perishable foods. The public sector should provide funding for investments in basic infrastructure to support cold chain development (i.e. electricity, roads), and for educational programs at the primary, secondary and higher educational levels in order to promote the value of production, handling and consumption of high quality, safe and nutritious foods. Governments should limit disincentives (for example high taxes on imported refrigeration equipment) and invest in those components of infrastructure and education that are currently missing in their development efforts involving cold chains.
The use of the cold chain is often avoided by food producers, handlers and marketers due to its perceived complexity and logistical challenges. There is a need to promote awareness and local, national, regional and international capacity building and training of trainers in the proper use of the cold chain. Once the cold chain is in operation, regular access to technical training on cold chain management and cold supply chain logistics will be needed by both the public and private sector.
Currently the lack of the use of the cold chain in developing countries leads to high food losses and loss of market value, leaving little profit for farmers, handlers, processors or marketers, while promoting the development of cold chains, could be a good source of new jobs. Producers would benefit as the agricultural value chains for their food products are fully developed, and new jobs would be formed all along the cold chain for those perishable foods for which pre-cooling, cold handling, freezing, cold storage and refrigerated distribution and marketing have been demonstrated to be cost effective.
Historically cold chains are often developed and utilized first for exports of higher value commodities and food products, but once in place are also used for domestic handling and marketing. Where cold chains exist for exported food products, they can be used as models for education, capacity building and skill development, and expanded to include cold storage and refrigerated distribution of perishable foods for domestic markets. Using the cold chain for improving domestic food supply chains will lead to improved nutrition and food safety while reducing food losses and lowering market prices for the local population.
Finally, we need to promote the use of cold chains as a means to prevent the waste of limited natural resources. The resources required for agricultural production (i.e. land, water, fertilizers, fuels, other inputs) are becoming more scarce and costly, and 25% to 50% of the resources used to grow these foods are being wasted when perishable foods are lost before consumption. Investments in the cold chain prevent the loss of foods after they have been produced, harvested, processed, packaged, stored and transported to markets, which greatly reduces the need for increased production to meet the predicted growth in future demand. Reducing food waste also saves the water, seeds, chemical inputs and labor needed to produce the food that is currently being lost. As local and global resources become scarcer and more expensive, preventing food losses will become even more cost effective than it is at today's resource prices. Public and private sector investors need to take into consideration how investing in the use of the cold chain can generate savings due to the reduced need for constantly increasing food production to meet rising consumer demand for perishable foods.
The Task Force on cold chain development in India had suggested in its report to establish a National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD) in India as an autonomous centre for excellence to be established as a registered society to work in close collaboration with industry and other stake holders to promote and develop integrated cold chain in India for perishable F&V and other perishable allied agri – commodities to reduce wastages and improve the gains to farmers and consumers substantially.
As recommended by the Task Force on Cold Chain a National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD) has been established to promote and develop integrated cold chain in India for perishable agriculture and horticulture produce including perishable from allied sectors. The main objectives of the centre are to recommend standards and protocols for cold chain infrastructure, suggest guidelines for human resource development and to recommend appropriate policy frame-work for development of cold chain.
NCCD was registered as a society under Registration of Societies Act 1860 on 27.01.2011. Cabinet Committee gave post facto approval on 09.02.2012.
In conformity with the vision of the Task Force on Cold Chain Development in India, set up by Ministry of Agriculture, the NCCD is mandated to recommend technical standards for cold chain infrastructures for perishable food items including fresh fruits & vegetables and undertake their periodic revision keeping pace with technological advancements. It is also going to undertake consultancy work, certification of cold storages and their ratings, Applied R & D and Human Resource Development Programmes for meeting requirement of skilled man-power of the cold chain sector in the Country. It is also going to advise Government in the matters relating to development of integrated cold chain infrastructure in the Country. This will definitely help in reducing post harvest losses of perishable farm produce and ensuring their steady availability thereby, securing remunerative price of farm produce to producer-farmers and availability of fresh fruits & vegetables to consumers at affordable prices.
• Alternate Energy Options for Strengthening Energy Efficiency for Cold Storage
• Current Scenario
• India is the largest producer of fruits and milk
• Second largest producer of vegetables
Third largest producer in the fishing sector in the world.
A typical cold chain An alternate approach...
Harvesting → Pre-cooling → Transportation → Sorting / Treatment → Packaging → Pre-cooling → Long transportation → Cold Storage → Retail
There is vast scope for applying renewable energy options will ensure self sustained, environment friendly, economical development of GREEN COLD CHAIN in long run facilitating further the increasing production.
R E Technological options
• Solar Photovoltaic Power Pack
• Solar PV + PCM
• Solar PV System + Diesel Gen-set Hybrid
• VAM Using Solar Thermal Energy
• Biomass Gasifier
• Solar/Biomass Co-generation (Power and Cooling)
These are some ready and proven options available
Solar Photovoltaic Power Pack...
Solar PV + Diesel Genset Hybrid...
Solar PV + PCM
VAM using Solar Thermal Energy...
Solar / Biomass Co-generation (Power and Cooling)...
Pilot projects, Successful implementations...
Solar thermal technologies can also be used for other processes requiring (temperature up to 150°C) such as Cleaning, Blanching, Dehydration and Drying.
Various projects under these technologies have been running successfully throughout the country. Some of the key projects:
Role of ministry
• Promoting various technological options
• Preparing DPRs and assisting on technological aspects
• Greater synchronization and synergy in between various ministries and departments
• Promoting and enabling policy formulation and integration of RE in various policies
• Expected impact and outcome
• Maximize Price Realisation(farmers / storage owners)
• Prevent Wastage
• Improve Shelf Life (Exotic flowers/vegetables)
• Improve Productivity
• Reduction in dependence on conventional energy
• Reduce logistics cost
AUTHORS CREDIT & PHOTOGRAPH
Dr. Omprakash G. Kulkarni
Provider and Consulting
Engineer for Renewable
Energy and Others...