The Australian Food Cold Chain Council (AFCCC) chairman, Mark Mitchell, said that the refrigeration industry, and the technicians who keep it running deserved praise for developing technologies that enable such vast amounts of food to be moved safely in wildly fluctuating temperatures from one end of the country to the other.
But he warns that the great gift of modern refrigeration and its supporting monitoring technologies is being abused, not by the suppliers of refrigeration, but the users of refrigeration.
He points to the rising levels of national food wastage as a result of poor temperature management, and forecasts that Australia will need to adopt serious training and education programs so that those responsible for moving food and pharmaceuticals around the country can get the best out of a perfectly good technology.
“The best way for Australian food and refrigerated transport businesses to celebrate World Refrigeration Day would be to promise to do a great deal more to limit horrific food waste through better management of their refrigerated spaces and transport processes,” Mitchell said.
“AFCCC research shows that far too many people who use refrigeration have very little understanding of how it works.”
The industry needs to call to account those industry sectors in Australia which are misusing refrigeration through abuse of temperature controls and poor food handling processes in refrigerated transports, loading docks and cold rooms, Mitchell added.
The AFCCC is working on a number of initiatives to improve cold chain processes in Australia, which has a poor record in food safety under refrigeration. A recent government sponsored study revealed that cold chain failures cost the Australian economy nearly $4 billion a year at farm gate values. Add to that the impact of that wastage on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and even the most sceptical would have to acknowledge that something needs to be done urgently to improve the cold chain.
“Because of the vast distances in this country, food transport is a series of refrigerated events, in the hands of a range of stake holders, many of whom don’t understand how it all works,” Mitchell said. “Mangoes picked in the Northern Territory may be handled through stationary and mobile refrigerated spaces as many as 14 times by multiple owners on a 3,400 km journey to Melbourne. If temperature abuse through poor refrigeration practices occurs in just one of those spaces, the losses at the consumer end are compounded, and shelf life can be either drastically reduced, or result in the whole load being sent to landfill.”
The big challenge facing the industry was how to explain efficient refrigeration processes to the people engaged in the industry, from those working in the loading docks, to transport drivers and shipment managers.
The AFCCC believes it will take a combination of serious training and education and a far-reaching new Code of Practice which the council is now working on in conjunction with other industry players. Also urgently needed is a more open culture of data transparency which government bodies urgently need to quantify more accurately the cost of food waste to the economy and develop initiatives to help reduce waste.
‘So by all means celebrate the many great things refrigeration has done for society, but save some of your efforts to help put refrigeration technology to far better use towards reducing food wastage,’ Mr Mitchell said
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