The Cool Chain Association said it plans to draft a best practice handling procedure for perishables based on a series of trials tracking perishables exports from farm to table or vase undertaken by CCA partner the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB).
A PPECB pilot trial monitoring cut flower exports from South Africa to Europe travelling last month has already highlighted the impact of temperature excursions on vase life, according to Vijan Chetty, CCA Board Member and General Manager, PPECB.
The trial was conducted in collaboration with Arnelia Farms, a South African wholesale flower nursery and exporter, and tracked Sunshine Conebush flower consignments packed on-farm near Hopefield in the Western Cape province of South Africa and travelling to destinations in the Netherlands and Germany.
"Trials over the past few years have focused primarily on the final mile of a specific trade lane," Chetty said, speaking at the Air Cargo Africa Event in Johannesburg last week.
"We will be looking at a farm to table or vase across a trade lane, and not only focusing on monitoring the temperature of the product, but also aiming to identify all areas where shelf life could be influenced, including, for example, post-harvest practices, packaging and palletisation, and the functionality of cold storage," the Cool Chain association executive said.
CCA, which recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the PPECB, will be reviewing the research trials, analysing the activities of stakeholders within the value chain, and identifying possible risk areas in order to draft best practice handling procedures for perishable products.
Chetty noted that the handling procedure could be used to train staff to mitigate risks and increase the vase life of flowers and the shelf life of other perishables. He added that the CCA is looking for implementable solutions that the industry can easily initiate.
The PPECB pilot trial used air temperature loggers on two consignments sent two days apart to monitor variations in cold chain conditions.
Flower consignments were packed in boxes, and palletised on-farm then loaded on a refrigerated truck before taking a two-hour journey to the courier service provider.
The CCA noted that the consignments were exported the next day to Europe.
Results showed that mean temperatures reached 10.4°c and 9.3°c for the two consignments, considerably higher than the 5°c recommended for cut flowers.
Although the flowers arrived in acceptable condition, vase life will have been affected by this temperature excursion, the statement said.
"Quality handling practices and cool chain management are an integrated process that cannot be reviewed in isolation, and this trial already shows that post-harvest handling and the first mile of every product plays an important role in determining a product’s quality," Chetty commented.
"Future PPECB trials will also include a focus on the final mile of the product from when the consumer makes the purchase and takes it home."
PPECB will now undertake trials to include other fast-moving perishable items, such as berries, and will move on to compare the cool chain, shelf life, and quality of commodities moved by air versus sea.
"CCA members are focused on collaborating to find tangible ways of improving the quality of the temperature-controlled supply chain," said Stavros Evangelakakis, CCA chair and head of global healthcare, Cargolux.
"By working with the PPECB on the results of their trials, we can go one step further in helping the industry to reduce perishables waste," he added.