It is estimated that over $5 billion worth of food is thrown out every year in Australia, comprising of fruit and vegetables worth over $1 billion and meat and fish worth over $800 million. The Australian Institute uncovered these staggering numbers and identified poor cold chain management as the primary cause of this significant waste.
Food products travel a great distance to get from manufacturing to consumption. The businesses involved in this cold chain have the responsibility to ensure food products remain of high quality when it reaches the consumer. Thereby, cold storage facility is a key component of the cold chain.
It is increasingly important for all businesses in the cold chain to maintain an effective cold storage facility for chilled foods and frozen foods. The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) Australian Cold Chain Guidelines for food outlines the standard that all businesses in the cold chain must comply with to maintain quality of chilled and frozen foods:
1. Storage temperature
The safety and quality of food that reach consumers depend heavily on the amount of time it is stored, the temperature it’s stored at and the history of the product. But the biggest contributing factor of food quality is storage temperature.
Chilled foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish must always be stored and transported at temperatures below 5°C, as this range of temperature slows down the natural deterioration of fresh foods, thereby increasing the shelf-life of these foods. The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) use the ‘never warmer than’ rule, i.e., all chilled foods must be stored and handled at temperatures between 0°C and +4°C and ensure the product temperature is 'never warmer than' +5°C unless otherwise specified.
Just like chilled foods, frozen foods need to be stored and transported at the required temperatures to maintain its quality and safety. The AFGC’s standard for frozen food products (including ice creams) is that they must be stored or handled 'never warmer than' -18°C.
2. Out of refrigeration time
The amount of time chilled and frozen products are stored outside of refrigeration time, i.e., during transport hours should also be curbed to preserve quality.
The AFGC refers to this as the ‘maximum out of refrigeration time limit’. They further add, “where chilled foods are being un-loaded or dispatched in either ambient (normal temperature) or in +5°C to +15°C air conditioned ante-room (temperature zone) confitions, the food is permitted out of the correct refrigeration storage for a maximum of 20 minutes”.
Frozen foods have different ‘maximum out of refrigeration time’ limits. For instance, where frozen foods are being unloaded or dispatched in ambient (normal temperature) conditions, the frozen food is permitted out of the correct refrigeration storage requirement for a maximum time of 20 minutes. If the ante-room environment is at lower temperatures for instance +5°C to +15°C or 0°C - +5°C, the frozen foods can be out of the correct refrigerated storage for a maximum of 60 or 90 minutes respectively.
Ice cream, in particular, is permitted to be outside of the correct refrigeration storage requirement for a maximum of 20 minutes, regardless of the unloading or dispatch requirement. However, they need to be loaded last and unloaded first to preserve quality.
3. Mixed Loads
Businesses must also consider the issue of heat exchange with other products as they could affect the quality of these foods when stored or transported together. It is recommended that businesses separate delivery or storage of foods that require different temperatures to preserve quality of all types of food. Businesses must take the appropriate measures to ensure effective product temperature separation.
Ideally, storage facilities should be equipped with partitions, and that frozen products are located adjacent to evaporators. It is also best for to use dual temperature vehicles and separate compartments when mixing frozen foods and / or chilled foods with other foods.
However, where mixed loads are unavoidable, it is recommended that businesses deliver room-temperature products at +4°C to ensure the never warmer than +5°C rule does not impact the chilled food products in a mixed load.
The AFGC recommends that mixed loads be validated using data loggers or validation checks to confirm and set maximum distances that loads should be carried on the fleet being used due to differences in temperature zomes, equipment types and un-segregated food types – fresh, chilled, frozen, ambient or dry goods.
What You Need To Do
Essentially, the key to maintaining quality of food products is temperature management. Out of refrigeration time limit and mixed load concerns only serve to support businesses in maintaining the right temperature for their products. And the core element to maintaining cold storage temperature is the right door. Strip doors and screens help control temperatures for different types of products stored in the same space or transported in the same vehicle.
To learn about the ideal strip door or screen that suits your storage facility best, click here. To learn if your storage facility doors meet the above standards by the AFGC, refer to our door performance checklist below.