Cold Link Africa January / February 2020 - Page 42

CONTRIBUTORS Houston, we have a problem… By Jan Lievens, senior consultant on applied postharvest technologies, UTE South Africa Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at UTE South Africa. With over 20 years of experience in this field, he is widely regarded as a specialist in the fruit-, vegetable- and flower industry with regards to humidity, airborne bacteria and ethylene removal, both locally and internationally. Furthermore, he also designed airflow-friendly packaging systems for the industry with proven results. When Professor Dr Luis Luchsinger was in South Africa in 2015 to present a table grape seminar in Paarl, he described the situation as he had seen it as shown by the organisers of the seminar. He painted a grim picture which a lot of the seminar attendees didn’t like. S imply put, he pointed out the problems the industry had in 2015. He also handed out a very practical, detailed manual where whatever he reported on at the time, is now concentrated in a nice synopsis with solutions. COOLING FRUIT DIFFERS FROM MAKING FRUIT COLD Of course, since there are always exceptions to the rule, some people really do it differently and try to get it right first time, every time. Truly, there are people that get it right, even big cold store operations, like Kriegler Farms in the Western Cape. In 2017 I received ‘TempTale’ temperature information on various Table Grape container shipments from their last season from a traditional table grape growing area in South Africa and they made me realise that we indeed have a problem. Prof Luchsinger was right. Not only that, we are four years down the line and there are still problems, and not small ones, big ones. I was shocked when I received, read and analysed them, but I’m even more shocked that nothing gets done about it. You all know the old saying: ‘Measuring is knowing’. These containers must have been loaded according to 42 our Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) protocol. Surely, they had to be, otherwise it defeats the object of checking and exercising ‘export control’ not so? In all the various protocols, the temperatures are clearly described. Now, the question is where do you measure what? You must measure ‘core temperature’ of the fruit. Simple. It doesn’t help to ‘just measure’ the outside box on the cold side of the forced air tunnel. Sure, that is the quickest box to be cold. Please, who’s trying to fool who? If that’s the way things are done, you obviously ‘trick’ the cooling down temperatures as well. It doesn’t help to ‘think’ your tunnels are fast if you don’t measure the right temperature. As a cold store operator, you are perhaps and probably boosting your figures, and your personal achievements, but you are tricking your clients: the farmers. It also makes this whole debate on fast cooling times in forced air tunnels very lively. It’s like throwing everything you have into a Formula 1 car on qualifying timing laps then, when it comes to the race, you stand in the paddock with your car on jacks, without petrol, without your team and without driver. It’s like asking Usain Bolt to run his fastest ever 100 meters, in full special forces battle dress with extra cobble stones in the pack. I would like to stress the basics: a cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a given temperature range. It is used to help extend and ensure the shelf life of products such as fruits, vegetables, and flowers and not just Table Grapes. Please don’t be distracted by the ‘Cost of Cold Chain Compliance’, rather look at the cost of ‘Non-Compliance’. What is your total cost? There you must bring various factors in: • What is the ‘Total Cost of Current System’? • What do you write off? • What are your quality claims? • How big is your customer dissatisfaction? Apart from the labour involved in investigations, two huge problems surface: 1. You pay the bills 2. You stand to lose your reputation And if you lose your reputation, you lose sales. So now you know, what do you do? Be responsible, acknowledge the problem and fix it: It doesn’t help to put out ‘another’ study by our various researchers, scientists and various other institutions. That has been done numerous times over the year. In fact, from before I was born and that’s well before the start of some well- known wars. Be realistic and practical: Monitor your whole process until your cold chain is validated. Practical Cold Chain Performance Qualification should be done periodically. This process picks up small things that creep undetected into the daily routines of cold chain management in the process. And remember, as potential clients, you seek consultants for their knowledge and experience. You expect a consultant to know more than those on your staff. This experience cannot be acquired overnight. This is especially valid for practical post- harvest experience. Furthermore, I have news for you – sorry, it’s never over. Houston, we didn’t just ‘have’ a problem, we still have a problem, in addition it’s obvious that doing nothing is not an option. This is written without a commercial intention, simply because we must fix what is wrong. If you can share worldwide, it hopefully draws the attention to a real problem that I’m sure is not confined to South Africa only. CLA COLD LINK AFRICA • January/February 2020