Food cold chain education needed and is coming soon

A new training initiative based on the thermometer is about to be introduced to the Australian cold chain industry. It is seen as a practical move to help combat the country’s serious food loss and wastage problem, estimated to cost the country nearly $4 billion a year at farm gate value.
The Australian Food Cold Chain Council (AFCCC), the peak advocacy body comprising concerned industry leaders covering refrigeration assets, transport and food distribution, will release an online education program, Thermometers and the Cold Chain Practitioner this month.
The program is aimed squarely at those the AFCCC regards as the super heroes of the food cold chain process – the people who oversee the movement of food through refrigerated transports, loading docks and cold rooms across the nation.
Industry research convinced the AFCCC that Australia desperately needed a new Cold Food Code that should be adopted by industry to stimulate a nation-wide educational push to bring Australian cold chain practices up to the much higher international standard.
The educational program starting with temperature measurement is the first of a planned five-code series.
The AFCCC has invested in new online education software that will be used to develop training programs to support the release of the actual Code document that will cover temperature technologies and how they should be used for monitoring a variety of foods carried in the cold chain.
The initiative runs alongside the work being done by other authorities, including Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) and the Commonwealth Government, which has signed up to a United Nations treaty to halve food wastage by 2030.
Some of the rising levels of national food wastage is considered to be the result of poor temperature management, and poor understanding of how refrigeration works in a range of storage environments. This includes from cold storage rooms through to trucks and trailers, and even home delivery vans.
Australia has world-class refrigeration and monitoring technologies, but the AFCCC believes industry will have to adopt serious training programs so that those responsible for moving food and pharmaceuticals around the country can get the best out of the available technologies.
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.
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.
People working at the coalface of the industry can sign on independently to do the course, which the AFCCC believes will be an important next phase in their professional journey. Kindred organisations involved in the cold chain will be encouraged to become retailers of the education program. Many industry groups have already signed up to help drive cold chain practitioners to the training program from their own websites.
There will only be modest charges for the course, which will help fund AFCCC’s continuing work on assembling the research and expertise to complete further parts of the overall Code of Practice. This will ultimately be gifted to the cold chain industry for the purposes of universal adoption.
The extent of food wastage in this country should not be under-estimated.  It is almost criminal that one quarter of Australia’s production of fruit and vegetables are never eaten and end up in land fill or rotting at the farm gate. This loss alone accounts for almost two million tonnes of otherwise edible food, worth $3 billion.
A government-sponsored study released earlier in 2020 revealed that meat and seafood waste in the cold chain costs the country another $90 million and dairy losses total $70 million.
It’s not just the wasted food at stake. The impacts on greenhouse emissions, water usage and energy consumption will end up being felt nationwide.
The AFCCC was formed in mid 2017 by a cross section of industry leaders covering manufacturing, food transport, refrigeration and cold chain services.
The Council sees itself as an important part of the solution, encouraging innovation, compliance, waste reduction and safety across the Australian food cold chain.
The new Council is not about promoting an industry – it wants to change the industry for the better. It acknowledges that Australia’s track record in efficient cold food handling, from farm to plate, is far from perfect.

How the humble thermometer helps reduce food waste

A new training initiative based on the thermometer is about to be introduced to the Australian cold chain industry. It is seen as a practical move to help combat the country’s serious food loss and wastage problem, estimated to cost the country nearly $4 billion a year at farm gate value.
The Australian Food Cold Chain Council (AFCCC), the peak advocacy body comprising concerned industry leaders covering refrigeration assets, transport and food distribution, will release an online education program, Thermometers and the Cold Chain Practitioner this month.
The program is aimed squarely at those the AFCCC regards as the super heroes of the food cold chain process – the people who oversee the movement of food through refrigerated transports, loading docks and cold rooms across the nation.
Industry research convinced the AFCCC that Australia desperately needed a new Cold Food Code that should be adopted by industry to stimulate a nation-wide educational push to bring Australian cold chain practices up to the much higher international standard.
The educational program starting with temperature measurement is the first of a planned five-code series.
The AFCCC has invested in new online education software that will be used to develop training programs to support the release of the actual Code document that will cover temperature technologies and how they should be used for monitoring a variety of foods carried in the cold chain.
The initiative runs alongside the work being done by other authorities, including Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) and the Commonwealth Government, which has signed up to a United Nations treaty to halve food wastage by 2030.
Some of the rising levels of national food wastage is considered to be the result of poor temperature management, and poor understanding of how refrigeration works in a range of storage environments. This includes from cold storage rooms through to
trucks and trailers, and even home delivery vans.
Australia has world-class refrigeration and monitoring technologies, but the AFCCC believes industry will have to adopt serious training programs so that those responsible for moving food and pharmaceuticals around the country can get the best out of the available technologies.
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.
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.
People working at the coalface of the industry can sign on independently to do the course, which the AFCCC believes will be an important next phase in their professional journey. Kindred organisations involved in the cold chain will be encouraged to become retailers of the education program. Many industry groups have already signed up to help drive cold chain practitioners to the training program from their own websites.
There will only be modest charges for the course, which will help fund AFCCC’s continuing work on assembling the research and expertise to complete further parts of the overall Code of Practice. This will ultimately be gifted to the cold chain industry for the purposes of universal adoption.
The extent of food wastage in this country should not be under-estimated. It is almost criminal that one quarter of Australia’s production of fruit and vegetables are never eaten and end up in land fill or rotting at the farm gate.
This loss alone accounts for almost two million tonnes of otherwise edible food, worth
$3 billion.
A government-sponsored study released earlier in 2020 revealed that meat and seafood waste in the cold chain costs the country another $90 million and dairy losses total $70 million.
It’s not just the wasted food at stake. The impacts on greenhouse emissions, water usage and energy consumption will end up being felt nationwide.
The AFCCC was formed in mid 2017 by a cross section of industry leaders covering manufacturing, food transport, refrigeration and cold chain services.
The Council sees itself as an important part of the solution, encouraging innovation, compliance, waste reduction and safety across the Australian food cold chain.
The new Council is not about promoting an industry – it wants to change the industry for the better. It acknowledges that Australia’s track record in efficient cold food handling, from farm to plate, is far from perfect.

Improvement in cold chain will reap many rewards

Australians love their fresh fruit and vegetables. The country is lucky enough to have some of the best produce in the world, not only in terms of quality, but also the variants – from the tropical climes of North Queensland to the more arid pastures of South Australia, there is plenty of variety for consumers to choose from.

There is a catch though. And the ‘but’ is supply chain – specifically cold chain supply. Australia has what is known as the tyranny of distance. Due to it being a large, dry, generally hot continent, getting produce to market, and in premium condition, can be an issue.

This is not lost on the Australian Food Cold Chain Council’s chairman Mark Mitchell. Mitchell has been in the cooling industry for the best part of 40 years, and is not only passionate about the industry, but is aware of its unique place in the heart of the food chain. He also knows that it is an industry that struggles to meet the demands of its contemporaries in other parts of the world like Europe and UK.

“The first thing you have to say when you talk about cold chain in Australia is, we’ve got one of the hardest jobs in the world,” he said. “For a developed country like Australia, we have a huge continent, high ambient conditions and small population. Logistically, we have a complex cold chain. To move food in the cold chain efficiently and economically in Australia there’s got to be a level of load sharing between third-party logistics providers and cold storage facilities. When food travels from one end of the country to the other, it passes through more than one set of hands to get to its destination. It becomes a complex cold chain. There is no way to avoid that.”

And while Australia does reasonably well given the constrictions of distances and lack of population, Mitchell believes that the industry can do better. But to do so, it also needs to start getting some of the basics right.

“Once you get third-party logistics involved it is further complicated,” he said. “If you want to get something from Cairns to Melbourne – it could be mangoes, garlic or whatever – it will most likely go through a transport firm independent from the sender and receiver of the food at either end of the chain. Then it may even transfer to another one or two transporters or cross-dock points in cities or towns before it reach the final stages of transfer into a transport or distribution centre to the supermarket.”

Quality can suffer when doors are continuously being opened and closed as one link in the chain goes through these transferral processes. Add to that a truck travelling on an eight to ten-hour haul, and the ambient temperature of the road – especially in summer – being very high, then it is no wonder some produce doesn’t arrive at the supermarket in pristine condition without appropriate temperature checks along the way. There are a several of things that can come into play to fix this, according to Mitchell – but better collaboration, training and industry driven regulations would be a great start.

He said that the cold chain is split into two points – critical control points and control points, and it is the former where collaboration needs to take place. And it’s not as though people don’t want to do the right thing, it’s just that the nature of the way of doing business in Australia is not conducive to collaboration.

“There is no single sector, stakeholder, or business type or group doing the wrong thing intentionally,” he said. “But we need collaboration at the critical links and this is the where the resistance comes. The resistance comes because the nature of business in Australia – and it’s just the way it is – is that you compete hard, for very low margins, and compete very aggressively in the marketplace to do what you do. This means cold chain businesses are encouraged – whether intentionally or not – to not inform the next guy in the chain with temperature data and other food safety information. This very strong resistance by different stakeholders to collaboration, is not because they don’t want to do the right thing – it’s just this sense of handing over data and information creates a fear that it will make the business un-competitive.”

Mitchell gives temperature as an example – one of the more critical aspects of a fully functional cold chain. When one person in the chain meets another link or critical control point at the end of their part of the cold chain transport journey, it’s the person doing the handover’s duty to give the temperature and any other information related to the role they played in the cold chain role to the next person. And this is where it can break down.
“Typically at a critical control point, a receiver is supposed to accept a temperature from the deliverer,” said Mitchell. “The receiver is supposed to check that temperature and go, ‘Yes, it’s supposed to be 3˚C. I’ll just make sure that is the case. Yes it is.’ The link is closed because the deliverer and receiver have agreed on the temperature. There is transparency and collaboration because they both own the temperature. This doesn’t happen often enough in Australia.”

Then there is the training. Even something that sounds rather simple such as reading a thermometer can be an issue because people are not trained how to use them properly , according to Mitchell.

“There are standard instructions for thermometers. There are things out there that you can buy and download that can show you how to use a thermometer,” he said. “There are manufacturing standards that will tell you how to buy the right thermometer, or teach you how to use a thermometer properly in the cold chain.

“I was speaking to some fresh produce people the other day – one of them in charge of the packing shed said they have backpackers and transient workers coming through that, not only do they not know how to use a thermometer, they don’t know how to keep a fridge door shut.”

But, isn’t a thermometer just a thermometer?

“Not at all,” said Mitchell. “It depend on the method of measurement you’re using. You could be using the wrong thermometer on the wrong product getting the wrong result. Thermometer manufacturers will put out a training course on how to use thermometers, but there are no standards.”

Which brings up the last point, regulations that might have to be implemented to make sure certain standards are met.

“We do have standards in Australia and globally. The ultimate for cold chain is the United Nations ATP agreement The Agreement on the International Carriage of Perishable Foodstuffs, and both the global and Australian industry diligently – to the best of their ability – follows them,” said Mitchell. “However, even the Europeans with all their regulations and all their good intentions, once they get a complicated cold chain like Australia, you start to see more failures. In saying that, the ultimate collaborators in cold chain are our European colleagues. You look at a cold chain in Germany, Scandinavia or France; it’s a single and collaborative effort. They have continuous temperature monitoring required on all vehicles. You have temperature handover requirements at critical control points.

“The solutions that the AFCCC are pushing for, is get a set of regulations put together – based on what is already there and based on what we already know – and consolidate it into a single, concerted industry code of practice. Such a code would preferably be adopted and managed by industry.

“It is all about putting all the good stuff together. The industry knows that putting it through a set of guidelines that encourages an environment that brings about a change without a burdensome cost to industry is a good start.”

When summing up the cold chain in Australia, Mitchell it blunt. He goes as far as to say that he believes the term cold chain is a misnomer; he thinks of it more as a risk chain.
“Most stakeholders in Australia run a risk chain, because they are forced to. No one’s paying them to do anything differently,” he said. “The nature of business in this country has pushed them to the brink where it is not possible for them to participate in a compliant cold chain. They’ll do their bit. They’ll have refrigeration in their section, and they’ll comply to themselves, but they won’t close the link to the next guy.”

Cold chain food waste costing billions

A report on the causes of food waste in Australia has attributed $3.8 billion in wasted food to “breaks and deficiencies in the cold food chain.”

The Expert Group, a local consultancy said that this is the first-time dollar losses linked to cold chain practices in Austria have been calculated.

The report titled Study of Waste in the Cold Food Chain and Opportunities for Improvement was sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and by the trade group Refrigerants Australia.

The report’s main finding is that “conservative estimates put the cost of food waste within the cold food chain at $3.8 billion at farm gate values.”

Specific losses
In specific product categories, Australia loses 25 per cent (1,930,000 metric tons) of its annual fruit and vegetable production, 3.5 per cent of meat (155,000 metric tons) and seafood (8,500 metric tons) production, as well as 1 per cent (90,000 metric tons) of annual dairy production value, the report said.

The report also estimated the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food waste attributed to sub-par refrigeration technology, practices and processes at 7.0Mt (million metric tons) of CO2e in 2018, which is about 1.3 per cent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

This is equivalent to more than 35 per cent of the total emissions (direct and indirect) from operating the cold food chain in the same year (18.9Mt CO2e), the report said.
The study identified practices that would cost-effectively reduce perishable food waste, including better food handling, such as reducing the time food spends outside refrigerated environments during transfer, more accurate measurement of food temperatures, and better cohesion and monitoring at all steps in the cold chain.

“Food damage is also more likely to occur in the transport and handling of refrigerated product than at stationary points in the cold food chain,” the report said.

In addition, losses could be better predicted, avoided, or reduced by improved ‘chain of custody’ documentation “involving a mix of better practices and the use of rapidly emerging monitoring and reporting technologies.”

Cold chain technology to support Australian food exports

The global markets for technology, beauty and food products are growing at an impressive rate, with consumers in all corners of the globe expecting availability, prompt delivery, and a visible supply chain.

Food is perhaps the most challenging export for any country, as it necessitates precise delivery timings, strict customs compliance and sophisticated and reliable technology to maintain freshness and prevent contamination – with no margin for error.

For Australia to maintain food export compliance as global demand grows, its logistics industry will soon need to invest in the development of cold-chain technology, an industry expert told Prime Creative Media.

“As Australian food exports reach further afield, it’s crucial that the cold-chain technology used during transport can be trusted to maintain freshness, consistently,” said a representative of logistics technology manufacturer FEMC Australia.

According to the expert, improving technology will be increasingly important for transporting perishable items to countries with immature cold chains.

“While the Australian cold chain is robust – a necessity given the tough climate – many countries importing its goods do not have the technology required to guarantee safe delivery,” she added.

The representative noted that by expanding into new markets, Australian exporters have the opportunity to further their reputation for quality, but the health implications of substandard cold storage through the supply chain could put this at risk.

Trade agreements with emerging markets will compound the issue of cold-chain compliance, she said.

“Initiatives by the Australian and world governments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and recent free-trade agreements, highlight the fact that the importance of geographical borders is diminishing in the face of global demand,” the FEMC expert noted.

“Quality perishable goods are integral to Australia’s global import value proposition, so cold chain logistics technology needs to grow alongside the industry.”