Saying no to thermal injury and spoilage: why temperature control matters

27th August 2018

The quality, longevity (read: shelf life), and safety of foods in any cold chain are governed by two principle values: time and temperature. Both have a big impact on the growth of microorganisms, including pathogens that grow on or in a product.

Indeed the role of chilling (to temperatures usually between 0°C and +5°C) and freezing is to slow down many of the chemical and biochemical reactions connected to food spoilage and deterioration.

Avoiding the cost of spoilage

The trouble is that many opportunities exist to upset even the most carefully laid of plans. Get things wrong at any stage of the handling, storage, and transportation phases, and these reactions receive a significant boost – and can spoil an entire shipment:

  • The UN estimates that each year approximately 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is wasted
  • While other reports suggest that food waste accounts for 40% of production
  • This equates to an economic impact of $218 billion in the US, and $143 in Europe alone

All of which should be well-known facts for any food producer, retailer, or food transporter. What’s possibly less well known however is how sensitive certain food types are to temperature differences.

Examples of chilling sensitivity

Take for example the humble asparagus. This spring vegetable is chilling sensitive, and its shelf life is actually reduced by storing it at 0°C – as opposed to its optimum storage temperature of 2°C. Get this wrong and you introduce a ‘chilling injury’ which makes them unsalable.

Same for bananas, that can quickly go black if refrigerated, while the chilling sensitivity of the average tomato means that low storage temperature can cause them to not develop their full flavour.

Indeed, most crops of tropical and subtropical origin are sensitive to such ‘injuries’. The results can range from surface pitting, discolouration, failure to ripen, growth inhibition, and loss of flavour – to outright decay.

Optimising the cold chain

All of which turns places the spotlight on temperature management within the cold chain – and the search for best practices.

As discussed in our article on cold chain breaches, the surest way to guarantee product quality is to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cold chain – set specifically for the load being carried.

With Thermo King’s range of precise temperature control solutions, that becomes as easy as touching a button. Our OptiSet technology enables you to automatically set the right temperature for any given product.

Better still, these are capabilities that are fully intermodal. That means you can move temperature sensitive cargo in the same reefer box by sea, rail, and road – confident each load enjoys a consistent level of chilling or freezing.

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