Mark Mitchell, chairman of the Australian Food Cold Chain Council details the critical issues facing the sector as we near food waste targets in 2030.
By: Mark Mitchell, chairman of the Australian Food Cold Chain Council (AFCCC).
The Australian cold chain is facing its biggest challenge yet. The current focus on halving the country’s horrendous food loss and waste by 2030 has lit a huge fire under the cold chain, and its glow has revealed the many failures of food carriage that far too many in the cold chain would prefer to deny.
Somebody must be responsible for the 7.6 million tonnes of food that never makes it to a table every year; for the $37.6 billion cost of that waste; for the 17.5 million tonnes of CO2 that is belched into the atmosphere because of the land, water, energy and fuel used to produce and distribute this wasted food.
Most participants in the cold chain, hand on heart, will welcome any move to stop wastage, but don’t believe they are actually part of the problem. This attitude is particularly prevalent in the food transport industry.
This is what comes of working in isolation. A chain, by its definition, means linking together in a common enterprise. But many of the links in the Australian cold chain are broken, and only a concerted effort by the industry will restore it.
Every company that handles food in refrigeration should embed quality management systems throughout their entire process. When the AFCCC meets a lack of appetite for improvement of cold chain processes, this reluctance to participate can be generally related to an inability to recognise that there is another, and bigger layer of responsibility on top of any number of refrigerated spaces, data acquisition technologies and intelligent refrigeration controls.
The food cold chain must be seen as a second layer, or a combination of the whole range of assets used by companies to transport, store and distribute food from farm or manufacturing facility to the consumer. Once these processes are incorporated into quality management systems, the chances of limiting food waste become increasingly higher.
As the AFCCC has said many times, there is no shortage of technology to monitor and identify fault-lines in the cold chain. What’s lacking is the knowledge required to act on the information that technology delivers.
Which leads us to the conclusion that the only way the cold chain can be repaired is through education, and we mean serious training.
The cold chain is just two words, but it should be three words – training, training and training.
Individual enterprises in the cold chain honestly believe they know it all. Their own processes, taken in isolation, may be very efficient, but when their product goes out the door and into a refrigerated transport, they believe their responsibility ends as they wave the truck goodbye. No it doesn’t.
There are very few compliant end-to-end cold chains in Australia. Long distances, commercial pressures and multiple use of third-party providers continue to be the main reasons the majority of chains are broken. There is also a great falsehood held by a significant number of stakeholders that individual links in the chain can be observed as compliant, and therefore product validation is possible. This is an erroneous approach due to the fact that non-verification of all the links in the chain cannot provide product validation at the end.
The AFCCC and its partners have gone to extreme lengths to provide relevant training for cold chain practitioners, introducing Australia’s first practical training program on the selection and use of thermometers. Perhaps because the thermometer is such a simple device, everyone thinks they know how to use it. If that’s the case, how come temperature abuse has been identified as being one of the biggest contributors to food loss and wastage.
There are plenty of people walking around with thermometers in their hand, but very few understand how to use them, calibrate them and are unable to make decisions that will identify broken links in the cold chain.
The AFCCC had hoped that this low-cost training program would produce a new generation of skilled people who in turn would lead the culture change charge.
Industry hasn’t exactly beaten down the doors to get at the training. Employees, it seems, need to be motivated by their supervisors and managers, but motivation is sadly lacking in their world.
It’s not as if training resources have been neglected. There is plenty of training available in a multitude of places, including government, packaging, and food husbandry organisations.
One would think it incumbent on all companies dealing in chilled or frozen foods, to have adopted regular internal training on food standards for all staff. Safe Food Queensland, and its equivalent in other states would be a good starting point.
All of us in the cold chain collectively have to lift our game, and we need to sign up every cold chain practitioner from every loading dock, every transport and every cold room in the country to higher levels of training.