But what does this involve?
Getting chilled or frozen food from farm to fork in perfect condition involves a series of temperature-controlled production, storage and distribution activities.
Take a bag of frozen peas as a simple example:
The peas are harvested and immediately delivered to the factory, ideally within 30 minutes of being picked. The peas are washed and sorted before a fast-freezing process takes their temperature to – 18°C, which takes around 6 minutes. Before being deposited into bags, the peas are checked for defects again. Bags are packaged into cardboard outers and put into on-site frozen storage.
But getting the bag of frozen peas to the consumer means transporting it from factory to primary cold store, from primary cold store to distribution centre, and from distribution centre to retailer, without allowing the temperature to rise and the peas to thaw and spoil….. an unbroken cold chain!
Primary Cold Stores (PCS) are generally used for longer term frozen food storage at temperatures between -20°C and -28°C. It is important that the temperatures remain stable to prevent dehydration or other deterioration of the food. This means that when products are delivered into the PCS there must be minimum exposure to outside temperature and weather conditions as the vehicle is unloaded.
The same applies to secondary cold stores, such as supermarket regional distribution centres, even though food is stored for shorter periods.
Frozen or chilled foods are most vulnerable to temperature rises when they are loaded or unloaded into distribution vehicles. Sorting and pre-assembly of loads in a temperature-controlled environment and pre-cooling of vehicles prior to loading helps minimise the risks, and covered loading bays, high speed doors and screened vehicles can also protect goods from direct sunlight, rain and wind.
However, in busy distribution centres, where vehicles need to unload or load within tight timescales, specialised automatic docking systems ensure goods are transferred from storage to vehicle (or vice versa) without the risk of a rise in temperature.
Innovative loading bay solutions
At Loading Systems, we have developed innovative loading bay solutions, which provide a secure environmental seal to the vehicle body. This helps to maintain the temperature between the distribution vehicle and the cold store dispatch bay by allowing the doors of the temperature-controlled lorry to be opened from inside the cold store after the vehicle has docked.
With the nation’s appetite for the convenience of chilled and frozen meals continuing to increase, speeding up distribution and improving product safety is an essential part of the unbroken cold chain process.