The Indian Cold Chain sector largely ‘Farm to table’

Kiran M.B, Consultant – Cold Chain, Food Distribution - Supply Chain Transportation Equipment & Refrigeration Systems speaks with Ranjana Konatt Editor (Brand Positioning) while giving a worthy assessment of the Indian Cold Chain and Food Chain sector.

Kiran M.B is a Member of ISOBL – USA, Technical Consultant – Project Management,  On Cold Chain Transportation, Related Equipment & Maintenance.

A Professional, Experienced in Project Consultancy & Management, with a demonstrated history of working in the Automotive, Trailer & Truck Body Building Industry for Cold Chain Food Transportation & Food Hygiene Control. After Sales Service & Maintenance Facilities Setups, Environment, Skilled in International Business Negotiations, Sales Management, Strategic Technical Knowhow Partnerships, International Sales, Product Sourcing & Development.

Has worked with Ministry of Transportation – Kingdom of Bahrain, in 1978, as Head of the Department, in the Automobile Division and went on to work with Al Dhaen Group of Companies in Kingdom of Bahrain, later Joined GORICA Group of Companies, Dubai-UAE in 1998, where he has held various positions over the years within the Group Companies and went on to serve for over 21-years. He has approximately 40-years of working experience to his credit.

From your perspective and the industry stand-point – assess the cold chain sector in India. (Could be concerning reefer transportation, how the industry approaches the cold chain, trends which have shaped the market, international trade and relations, impact of export etc.)  

The Food Chain & the Cold Chain supply industry in the country and as a whole is yet to gain momentum – the sectors are not organised and need to be improved. The industry in India needs to streamline and formulate rules, regulations and the country also needs specific protocols for the transport of perishables and this must be executed by the Ministry of Transportation. For instance – we have the ‘ATP Certification (Accord for Transport of Perishables) – which is widely used and practised in Europe. Also, the enforcement of rules and regulations, the implementation and monitoring would require a separate department, a working committee, a task force for inspection from within the Ministry of Transportation. The practice is that permits for operating the refrigerated trucks and trailers are given based on what is used for transportation, and depending on the temperatures – frozen or chilled. This is also issued by the ‘Ministry of Health’s ‘Public Health & the Food Safety and Hygiene Department,’ or by the Public Health Department of the respective country.

Explain the concept – ‘Farm to Table’. Describe to us in the general sense the cold chain and how it progresses across the collection phase – the storage and the distribution phase. What are the challenges stressing the Indian market? 

Under certain specified temperatures and hygiene conditions of storage, transportation & distribution, the involve the following:

  • Fresh Vegetable Produce from the Farms
  • Chilled & Frozen Vegetable Products
  • Fresh Milk & related Dairy Products
  • All Fresh, Chilled Fruit Pulps & Fruit Juices
  • All Fresh, Chilled & Frozen Meat Products

The first challenge begins with the collection of food materials from the source, and these are too many, and at times it gets complex as well.

The basic parameters to be followed & practised are as follows:

  • The level of the hygiene conditions at the source or the point of collection
  • Suitable packaging, depending on the nature of the Food Materials
  • Suitable refrigerated transport truck/trailer with temperature control for the payload area during transportation/transit
  • Monitoring Mechanism – for monitoring of Storage Temperatures in the warehouse & while Loading at the Point of Origin
  • Monitoring Mechanism for Specified / Required or Set Temperatures during Transit
  • Monitoring of Temperature at the Point of Distribution at Destination

In brief, temperatures need to be monitored throughout – that is from the point of origin, during transit and even at the destination. The most important factor in the cold chain is to maintain hygiene levels within the payload areas of the transport equipment – trucks and trailers by way of regular cleaning and disinfecting of payload areas, pallets, plastic crates which use food grade and compatible disinfection materials.

Cold Chain Food Transportation Hygiene Control
Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn on Unsplash

What are the common issues concerning the collection and transportation phase? Give us instances where food has often gone rotten on its way while being transported, what is the kind of damage we have been seen in terms of food wastage? 

As a standard practice, care must be taken to store food materials in a clean area and a hygienic environment depending on the requirement and the type of food material. The hygiene conditions of storage areas, cartons, pallets, crates must be maintained at all times without compromise. The explanations in detail are that the above requirements are not practised and maintained as required by which the basic requisites and parameters stated earlier are compromised, thereby owing to the decomposition of leftovers and wastes of food materials in the respective storage areas. The fungus can form, mildew, microbes and bacteria develop and infect storage areas, pallets, cartons, plastic crates. Hence, the food stored in unclean unhygienic conditions as stated above will get infected, begins to rot & decompose, which leads to wastage and the renders the food materials unusable.

However, with experience, I can say that most of the times the above are ignored and compromised to a great extent and that can pose a health risk.

Give us an overview of how the industry has progressed? What are the steps which have been taken to improve the situation? Has government policy and regulation, the presence of certain leaders which you’d like to mention made a difference? Please elaborate?  

Our country has a long way to go, we need to gain experience and must attain progress especially in the Cold Chain Transportation and the food chain distribution & supply industry. If we compare this especially to Europe whose standards are very high in terms of storage, cleanliness, hygiene levels in storage and the cold chain transportation industry by adhering to the set rules, regulations and temperature parameters as per the Accord for Transportation of Perishables (ATP) – the Geneva Convention. Whereas, when we talk of our country as to date, because there are no legislations, set rules governing the cold chain – to regulate and streamline the industry – we refer to it as ‘Farm to Table.’ For instance: Are you aware of practices in India of an individual, supermarket chain, hotels, restaurants or for that matter also asking for temperature proof for goods at the point of origin which is delivered at the point of destination during the time of delivery. It is crucial to check the temperature of supplied/ the delivery of frozen, deep-frozen or chilled goods, and most likely the answer is no, I don’t think so. I am not aware of whether such a system exists and I don’t know the practise and if it exists. Please note – it is a must because a person needs to know what was the temperature at which a particular thing was stored at the point of origin, the temperature at the time of loading and the temperatures maintained during transit.

Cold Chain Food Wastage Storage Temperature Cold Storage
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

How is India placed on the global front? 

India is still far behind and we need to accelerate reforms to reach and to keep up with the developed world. For instance – countries such as Europe & the USA are highly advanced in this sphere and these issues must be taken seriously while we act on augmenting and upgrading systems to keep up the pace with technology and more importantly to be up to date because food safety is the subject being questioned. Our country needs changes in laws governing food safety and there is a need for legislation and the need for protocols and reforms.

How can we as an industry thrive and move towards change? How can we improve the way we function and thrive towards change?   

We as an industry can move forward with the support and the co-operation of the Central Government and all related ministries in the state governments such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Fisheries and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) are related to the food processing industry. Also, dairy farms, poultry farms, fisheries, farmers associations across the country, supermarket chains and related cold storage and temperature-controlled warehouses. FCI has been active since the year 1964. And since inception, it has played a crucial role in the Food Industry especially when it comes to regulating and streamlining various Food Supply Channels, while also helping agriculturists, farmers and their associations while also rendering assistance during drought or a food crisis. However, having said that, in the context of the Food Chain & Cold Chain Industry, the Central Govt. has to create a separate department, under the responsible ministry which the Central Govt. deems fit. The FCI could also be empowered by the Central Govt. to control & regulate the Food Chain / Cold Chain, once the required Legislations are in place by the Central Govt.