A rapidly growing population in the GCC has led to an increase in the number of supermarkets and convenience stores. And with that, the demand for robust cold chain solutions has intensified.
Refrigeration experts have called for a review of food handling and storage practices, and for increasing vigilance to ensure that there are no weak links in the chain, from farm to fork.
In north-western Saudi Arabia, fruit and vegetable pluckers at Tadco Farm, which incidentally, is the size of Bahrain, take immense care to ensure that the produce do not lose their weight or nutrition. The threshold limit is 10 minutes from the time of plucking, within which the produce have to be refrigerated, else there is loss of weight and nutrition. Taking this into consideration, the fruits and vegetables are plucked and immediately stored in mobile refrigeration units, which move along with the pluckers in the farm. And from there, they are taken to refrigerated storehouses, where again, the right temperature and humidity are maintained.
While the fruits and vegetables are in almost pristine condition until the time they are in the storehouses in farms, like Tadco, there is a need to ensure that they are transported properly from there onwards and that they arrive at the supermarkets with their weight and nutrition intact. There can be a number of technical and non-technical imponderables on the way that could disrupt the cold chain. To cite one possibility, it could be a case of a less-enlightened truck driver, who in order to save on power, could switch off the refrigeration for a considerable length of time and switch it back on, as he nears the destination. If questioned about the produce, the truck driver could blame the farm for not ensuring that the fruits and vegetables were up to acceptable standards, in the first place.
Needless to say, this malpractice can be caught through a vigilant approach, which should include checking the produce at the time of placing it in the truck at the farmhouse and sealing and certifying the container. Systems and processes, such as this, will go a long way in ensuring a robust cold chain.
Food handling and storage collectively form the theme of Food Chain, the two-day food-safety seminar we will be conducting in end-April. It has an end-user focus; delegates will listen to issues raised by retailers, wholesalers and food processors. Suppliers, service-providers and logistical entities will have an opportunity to address their concerns. It is intended that the seminar is a meeting ground for the industry to identify the weak links in the chain and resolve issues that simply cannot be ignored, especially when the footprint of supermarkets and convenience stores is getting larger and larger.