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Use of cold chains in reducing food losses in developing countries

Use of cold chains for reducing food losses
in developing countries
PEF White Paper No. 13-03
Lisa Kitinoja
The Postharvest Education Foundation (PEF)
December 2013
Use of cold chains for reducing food losses in developing countries
PEF White Paper No. 13-03
Lisa Kitinoja
The Postharvest Education Foundation (PEF)
December 2013
Global food losses have been documented to be on the order of 25% to 50% of production
volumes, caloric content and/or market values depending on the commodity (Lipinski et al,
2013; Gustavsson et al 2011; IIR 2009). The use of "cold" handling and storage systems as an
investment to prevent perishable food losses is widely used in developed countries and can be
highly cost effective compared to continually increasing production to meet increasing demands
for these foods. The use of cold technologies in the development of agricultural supply chains
for meat, dairy, fish and horticultural products in the USA and EU countries began the early
1950s along with the growth of the mechanical refrigeration industry, but cold chains are still
limited in most developing countries.
There are many technical, logistical and investment challenges as well as economic
opportunities related to the use of the cold chain. The primary segments of an integrated cold
chain include 1) packing and cooling fresh food products, 2) food processing (i.e. freezing of
certain processed foods, 3) cold storage (short or long term warehousing of chilled or frozen
foods), 4) distribution (cold transport and temporary warehousing under temperature controlled
conditions) and 5) marketing (refrigerated or freezer storage and displays at wholesale markets,
retail markets and foodservice operations). Policy makers in the agriculture, energy, education
and food sectors must work together to promote the use of cold chain technology, improve
logistics, maintenance, services, infrastructure, education and management skills, and create
sustainable markets for the design, use and funding of cold chains for reducing perishable food
Table 1: The Cold Chain, Food Security and Economic Development
Developed countries
Population in 2009 (in billions
of inhabitants)
Population in 2050 (forecast,
in billions of inhabitants)
Refrigerated storage
capacity (m3/1000
Food losses (all products)
Losses of fruits and
Losses of perishable
foodstuffs due to lack of
Source: IIR. 2009. The role of refrigeration in worldwide nutrition (
Fresh foods continue to metabolize and consume their nutrients throughout their shelf life, from
harvest or slaughter through packing, distribution, marketing and sale. Carbohydrates, proteins
and other nutrients are broken down into simpler compounds often resulting in reduced quality
or quantity of the foods, through respiration, enzymatic breakdown and microbial degradation.
All of these processes are highly dependent upon temperature.
As is the case for all biological processes, the higher the temperature the faster these natural
degradation processes will occur, leading to loss of color, flavor, nutrients and texture changes.
In fact, as a general rule, most of these degradation processes double their rate for each
increase of 10°C (known as the Q10 quotient, which is illustrated in more detail below). For
example, maintaining a food’s temperature at 10°C colder than the temperature commonly
experienced when handled during ambient conditions can double the shelf life of that food.
Lowering temperature does have some exceptions, since some fresh horticultural perishables
are susceptible to chilling injury below about 10°C (most of the tropical and sub-tropical crops)
and all fresh horticultural perishables will freeze below about -1°C.
In addition to physiological deterioration, foods may host micro-organisms such as bacteria and
fungi which can cause molds, rots or decays, and are subject to water loss which results in
wilting, shriveling or darkening. Both the rate of microbial growth and the rate of water loss
occur more rapidly as temperature increases. Few other interventions can so dramatically
maintain the visual quality and nutritional value, and increase shelf life and ultimate market
value of fresh foods as much as simply holding the foods at a lower temperature.
Cooling provides the following benefits for perishable horticultural foods:
• Reduces respiration: lessens perishability
• Reduces transpiration: lessens water loss, less shriveling
• Reduces ethylene production: slows ripening
• Increases resistance to ethylene action
• Decreases activity of micro-organisms
Reduces browning and loss of texture, flavor and nutrients
Delays ripening and natural senescence
Table 2: Predicted loss of storage potential increases as handling temperatures increase for
fresh foods commonly handled at ambient temperatures in developing countries (rough
calculations based upon Q10 coefficients)
at optimum
temperature +
temperature +
temperature +
Fresh fish
10 days at
4 to 5 days at
1 to 2 days at
A few hours at
2 weeks at
7 days at 10°C
2 to 3 days at
A few hours at
Fresh green
1 month at
2 weeks at 10°C
1 week at 20°C
Less than 2 days
at 30°C
5 to 10
months at 4 to
12 °C
Less than 2
months at 22 °C°
Less than 1
month at 32 °C
Less than 2 weeks
at 42 °C
2 to 3 weeks
at 13°C
1 week at 23°C
4 days at 33°C
2 days at 43°C
3 to 6 months
at -1°C
2 months at 10°C
1 month at 20°C
A few weeks at
In general, the Q10 coefficient (an indication of the relative rate of respiration at 10°C intervals)
can be used for fresh foods to estimate the shelf life under different temperature conditions.
Table 3: Theoretical relationship between temperature, respiration rate and deterioration rate of
a non-chilling sensitive fresh commodity
Temperature °C
Assumed Q10
Relative velocity of
Relative shelf life
Loss per day (%)
Developed from data available in USDA Handbook 66 (2004)
Use of cold chains
A cold chain for perishable foods is the uninterrupted handling of the product within a low
temperature environment during the postharvest steps of the value chain including harvest,
collection, packing, processing, storage, transport and marketing until it reaches the final
consumer. An integrated cold chain encompasses the management of the movement of
perishable food products from the field, ranch or body of water through the entire postharvest
chain to the final consumer. The primary segments of an integrated cold chain, which include 1)
packing and cooling fresh food products, 2) food processing (i.e. freezing of certain processed
foods, 3) cold storage (short or long term warehousing of chilled or frozen foods), 4) distribution
(cold transport and temporary warehousing under temperature controlled conditions) and 5)
marketing (refrigerated or freezer storage and displays at wholesale markets, retail markets and
foodservice operations) can be simple or complex, low tech or high tech. Cold chain logistics is
the planning and management of the interactions and transitions between these five segments,
in order to keep foods at their optimum temperature for maintenance of quality, food safety and
prevention of waste and economic losses. Speed is often the key to success when handling and
marketing perishable foods using a cold supply chain (Kohli 2010).
The cold chain is a well-known method for reducing food losses and food waste, and has long
been promoted by established industry focused organizations such as The International Institute
of Refrigeration (, The World Food Logistics Organization ( and the
Global Cold Chain Alliance ( The required infrastructure and investments in
needed facilities, equipment and management skills, however, are generally lacking in
developing countries. Policy studies on food make very little mention of "postharvest" aspects
of agriculture in major new reports on farming or small and medium scale enterprise (SME)
policy coming from international donors and grant-makers. Recent examples include the FAO's
State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 and IFPRI's Food Security, Farming, and Climate
Change to 2050: Scenarios, results and policy options, which when searched provide no
references to postharvest problems, cold chain issues, opportunities or policy options. The
UNFAO/UNIDO manual on Agro-Industries for Development (da Silva et al 2009) mentions the
term “cold chain” only once in a comprehensive work of 270 pages.
The UN FAO recently launched the SAVE FOOD Initiative which includes many partner
organizations working on various means for reducing food losses and waste. One of the top
priorities cited by the Global Harvest Initiative report on measuring global agricultural
productivity was "Improving food system infrastructure and processing to benefit agricultural
products distribution and minimize waste" (GHI 2010; p. 8). The report concludes that
significant public and private investments in capital and infrastructure will be required along the
entire food chain. Reports on the postharvest sector and its contributions to economic
development (Mrema & Rolle 2002; Kader 2006; Winrock 2009) leave no doubt as to its
importance and cost effectiveness, yet introducing a cold chain in a developing country requires
the integration of a great many different elements and the continuing management of those
elements. Unfortunately, most aid donors and grant programs have tended to focus on
establishment of stand-alone cold storage or food processing facilities or projects rather than
focusing on the longer term management of those investments and the maintenance of an
integrated cold chain.
Selecting appropriate cooling technologies for use in the cold chain
There is a wide range of options and technologies for producing cold conditions for food
handling, processing, storage and transport. Some are relatively simple and inexpensive, while
other technologies intended to achieve the same results are more sophisticated and complex to
manage. For precooling, operators can choose from simple farm-based methods such as using
ice, to more complex systems for forced air, hydro-cooling or vacuum cooling. For storage,
there are options for food handlers that range from small walk-in cold rooms to large scale
commercial refrigerated warehouses. Small-scale cold rooms can be designed using traditional
mechanical refrigeration systems, low cost CoolBot equipped air-conditioner based systems
(see detail below), or as evaporative cool chambers. Food processors can choose from chillers,
blast freezing, IQF, freeze drying and many other technologies. During transport, cold can be
provided via the use of ice, trailer mounted refrigeration systems, evaporative coolers or via
passive cooling technologies (insulated packages or pallets covers during transport).
The suitability of these options will depend upon the food products being handled and the level
of sophistication of the value chain. Kitinoja and Thompson (2010) and Winrock International
(2009) have reviewed the cooling practices utilized during pre-cooling and cold storage for
horticultural crops. These documents provide basic recommendations on cooling options and
information regarding capital costs and energy use for small-scale, medium scale and larger
scale operations. In general, the highest cost will be for mechanical refrigeration systems using
electricity or diesel fuel where temperatures are the hottest, but the benefits of using cold chain
technologies can still outweigh costs, since it is in these regions where food losses due to lack
of temperature management are the highest. Evaporative cooling systems work well only in dry
regions or during the dry seasons when the relative humidity is low. Total construction and
operating costs for refrigerated systems will vary widely depending on the costs of local
materials, labor and electricity. Postharvest losses can be greatly reduced with the use of cold
storage, but the ROI for any specific operation will always depend largely upon the market value
of the food commodities being cooled and stored and the use efficiency of the facility (i.e.
whether or not it is operated at full capacity).
Table 4: Examples of mechanical technologies available for refrigeration/freezing
Cold chain step
Large scale
Pre-cooling systems
Portable forced air cooling
Vacuum cooling
Forced air cooling
Cold Storage
Walk-in cold rooms
CoolBot equipped cold
Refrigerated warehouses
chilling or freezing
“Direct expansion” chilling of
bulk milk
“instant” chilling of milk
Blast freezing
Vacuum cooling of packaged
Refrigerated transport
USDA Porta-cooler
Reefer vans
Refrigerated marine containers
Refrigerated intermodal
containers (for road, rail and sea
A recent development on the small-scale mechanical cooling technology front is a CoolBot
equipped cold room for storage of chilled food products and fresh horticultural produce. A small
cold room with a commercially installed refrigeration system costs about $7000 for 3.5 kW (1
ton) of refrigeration capacity (Winrock, 2009). A small-scale option is to use a modified room air
conditioner, a method originally developed by Boyette and Rohrbach in 1993, to prevent ice
build-up which restricts airflow and stops cooling. The control system of the window style air
conditioner unit is modified to allow it to produce low air temperatures without building up ice on
the evaporator coil. Recently a company has developed an easily installed digital controller that
prevents ice build-up but does not require modifying the control system of the air conditioner
(Cool-bot , Store It Cold, LLC, A room air conditioner and Cool-bot tm
control system currently costs about 90% less than a commercial refrigeration system. The
control system is designed so that any moisture condensed on the refrigeration coils is returned
to the cold room air and the system will therefore cause less product moisture loss than the
commercial refrigeration system.
For refrigerated transport, small-scale producers and marketers can use the USDA Porta-
cooler. Two types of portable pre-coolers currently exist and both have been tested extensively
(Boyette, no date; USDA 1993). They can be self-constructed at relatively low cost, and
complete plans are available on the internet on the NCSU website
Figure 1: The CoolBot
controller (Photo source:
7 and the
ATTRA website ( The USDA Porta-cooler can be carried on
traditional small scale transport vehicles, either pulled as a trailer or set into a pick-up truck bed.
The Porta-cooler consists of a small insulated box (3.5 m3), holding approximately 700 kg of
produce, fitted with a room sized air conditioner (2.9 to 3.5 kW) and diesel-powered generator (2
kW). These units can be operated successfully at temperatures of 10°C or above with good
results, making them most useful for transporting tropical and sub-tropical horticultural crops. At
temperatures below 10°C, however, ice will build up on the coils, and the air conditioner will not
work as designed. The CoolBot control system described above could be utilized to
overcome this limitation. A full set of plans for construction of an insulated trailer equipped with
the CoolBot has recently been developed by scientists at North Carolina State University and
is available online for free download (
cool/ ).
Non-mechanical cooling practices:
For horticultural crops, the cold chain can sometimes be a "cool chain" depending upon the
commodity. For example, tropical fruit crops and tomatoes require handling temperatures of 12-
18°C for longer shelf life. Colder temperatures during handling, storage or transport will result in
chilling injury, reduced storage potential and reduced market value. Symptoms often appear
only after the commodity is returned to warmer temperatures during marketing or home use.
Non-mechanical cooling practices can often achieve these moderately cool temperatures at
very low cost.
Evaporative cooling: Lowering temperature of fresh horticultural produce via systems utilizing
the evaporation of water to 2-3°C above the ambient dew point temperature. Evaporative cool
storage rooms are commonly used for bulk storage of tropical and sub-tropical crops (such as
sweet potatoes) or as small-scale cool chambers for temporary storage of fruits and vegetables
in tropical climates, and work best in dry climates or during the dry season. Evaporative coolers
can be passive (zero energy) or assisted (using a solar powered or electric fan to move air
through the storage chamber).
Table 5: Examples of Non-mechanical technologies available for cooling
Cold chain step
Large scale
Portable evaporative forced air cooling
Slurry ice
Cold Storage
Zero energy cool chambers (ZECC)
Evaporatively cooled cool rooms
(charcoal coolers)
Underground storage (root cellars)
Night air ventilation
High altitude storage
Radiant cooling
Solar chillers
Evaporatively cooled
Underground storage (caves)
High altitude storage
Radiant cooling
chilling and
None available
None available
Evaporatively cooled insulated
transport boxes or trailers
Passive cooling (insulated
pallet covers)
Figure 2: Large scale evaporatively cooled storage facility for cured sweet potatoes.
(Photo credit: Robert Kasmire)
A variety of designs for small-scale evaporatively cooled storage chambers have been
developed for fresh tropical and sub-tropical produce. Kitinoja and Thompson (2009) provide a
review of the many designs currently available in Southeast Asia, India and Africa, and most
can be constructed locally using low cost materials. The low cost passive cooling chamber
illustrated in figure 3is constructed from locally made clay bricks. The cavity between the walls
is filled with clean sand and the bricks and sand are kept saturated with water. Fruits and
vegetables are loaded inside, and the entire chamber is covered with a rush mat, which is also
kept moist. During the hot summer months, this chamber can maintain an inside temperature of
15 and 18 °C lower than the ambient temperature and a relative humidity of about 95%.
The original developers of this technology at IARI in India called it a "Zero-Energy Cool
Chamber" (ZECC) because it uses no external energy. A larger version of this chamber was
constructed in the design of a small cold room (6 to 8MT capacity), and needs only the addition
of a small water pump and a ventilation fan at the roof line (similar to the vent fans used in
greenhouses). Since a relatively large amount of materials are required to construct these cold
storage chambers, they may be most practical when handling high value products.
The cost for construction of the small unit in India was $200 (200 kg capacity), the cost for the
large walk-along unit was $1000 (1 MT capacity) and the cost of the commercial sized 6MT unit
is estimated to be $8,000 (Kitinoja 2010). Results are best when the relative humidity
conditions outside the ZECC are low, as during the dry season or in semi-arid regions.
Figure 3: Design for a 1MT
capacity ZECC (Kitinoja,
Digital illustration credit:
Amity University, Uttar
Pradesh, India
In addition to these simple evaporative systems, other cooling systems are available for use
when electricity is not available. Harvesting fresh produce early in the morning (with the
exception of citrus crops because of fruit susceptibility to physical damage when turgid) will
ensure produce is being handled at a lower temperature when compared to daytime ambient
temperatures. The use of shade after harvesting will keep produce from warming in the sun
while waiting for transport. Crushed or slurry ice can be used for rapid chilling or pre-cooling of
fish or vegetables that can tolerate water. Slurry ice is a solution of about 40% water, 60% ice
and 1% salt. Ice in large pieces or blocks can be used to cool water which can then be used in
shower or immersion type hydro-cooling systems. The cost of ice production can be very high
compared to its cooling capacity (Kitinoja and Thompson, 2010), and ice melt can cause safety
and sanitation problems during handling, storage, transport and marketing.
Night air ventilation is the opening of vents in the basement of an insulated storage structure
during the cooler night hours, then closing the facility during the daytime to keep the cool air
inside. As a rule night ventilation effectively maintains a given product temperature when the
outside air temperature is below the given product temperature for 5 to 7 hours per night
(Kitinoja and Thompson 2010). Natural underground cooling can be used in caves or root
cellars and high altitude cooling can be used where ambient air temperatures are lower than
Radiant cooling can be used in dry climates with clear night skies to lower the temperature of
ambient air. By using a solar collector at night, air will cool as the collector surfaces radiate heat
to the cold night sky. Temperatures inside the structure of 4°C less than night air temperature
can be achieved (Thompson et al 2002).
Passive cooling (insulated packages or pallets covers) can be used during transport to keep
pre-cooled or chilled foods cold. The insulation will act to prevent rapid rewarming, but has a
limited range, and the distance or time that foods can be kept cool will depend on the outside air
temperature and desired product temperature upon delivery. RefrigiWear is one of the
companies that has developed and markets this kind of products, and claims they can maintain
product temperatures for up to 12 hours when properly used with temperature changes of less
than 1°C per hour. (
Solar powered cooling systems that function via ice bank or ice battery are in the development
stage (, but currently available solar chilling systems are very expensive and
too small for commercial food handling or storage. Prototypes of this ice-based cool box are
available via a United Nations program for storage of pharmaceuticals and vaccines. They use
a solar powered 3 x 60 W PV array and ice as the energy storage medium (rather than acid
batteries which tend to have a short life in hot climates and create environmental hazards if not
recycled properly). Cost is estimated at $1,500 for a unit that has a storage capacity of 50100
L. These units would be best used for temporary storage of highly perishable high value foods
such as fresh cut fruits or vegetables, strawberries, cheeses, milk, bean sprouts or mushrooms.
Freezing: A common method of freezing is simply indirect contact with a refrigerant that flows
through shelves or belts that may touch the bottom or both top and bottom of the packages,
commonly called convection freezing.
Blast freezing rapidly passes cold air over packages as they move through a tunnel or when
they are stacked in rooms. This method is in most common use by refrigerated warehouses for
freezing foodseither from the unfrozen state for a processor with limited freezer capacity or for
bringing the temperature of still-frozen foods back to -18°C after they have been exposed to
higher than optimal temperatures.
The freezing process can be sped up even further by using a free flow freezing process to
achieve individually quick frozen (IQF) product pieces. The unpackaged food is frozen either on
belt freezers where air at -40°C blows up through a mesh belt and through a thin layer of small
food product pieces or in fluidized-bed freezers where the blast of upcoming air is of sufficient
velocity to partially suspend the food. The frozen food pieces are then packaged and moved
into cold storage.
Very rapid freezing methods, such as using liquid nitrogen for commercial freezing are available
but the technologies are extremely expensive. Shrimp, for example, can be frozen by passing
them under a liquid-nitrogen spray. The shrimp are conveyed first through a cooling area where
nitrogen gas from the freezing part of the process is used to cool the product. The shrimp then
come into direct contact with liquid nitrogen sprays at -195°C, for less than 2 minutes. The
product then equilibrates to -29°C and is ready for cold storage. This technique, commonly
called conduction freezing, can be used for high value vegetables, fruits, shellfish and other
food products.
Methods that produce quick freezing (IQF, liquid nitrogen) result in better quality food products
than do methods that provide slow freezing (traditional freezer room racking). Rapid freezing
prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming in the frozen food product because the
molecules don't have time to form. Slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals. During
thawing, they damage the cells and break cell walls and membranes. This causes vegetables
to have a mushy texture and meats to weep and lose juiciness. Quicker freezing methods,
however, also can be more expensive.
Temperature fluctuations during storage and distribution are common in developing countries,
allowing product to melt slightly and new, larger ice crystals to form when temperatures drop.
Figure 4 is a photo taken during a cold chain assessment in Indonesia where frozen foods on
pallets awaiting customs inspection were left out on an open loading dock in a seaport.
Traditional blast freezing requires the use of a separate cold room with a door that can be
sealed to prevent human entry while very low temperature air is blasted into the room. A recent
innovation is the use of forced air blast freezing for packaged foods on individually shrouded
pallet loads inside a racked cold room. Industry professionals claim that the slightly higher
temperature of forced air blast freezing can be targeted to speed freezing, therefore saving time
and energy while reducing labor costs (
Energy use efficiency: The energy use efficiency of any cold chain technologies will affect
both feasibility and economic sustainability. Approximately 35% to 40% of the energy use for
cold storage is used to keep product cool, while the remainder is used to remove the heat
Figure 4: Melting symptoms in frozen
chicken shipments in Indonesia during
a break in the cold chain (Photo credit:
Lisa Kitinoja)
coming into the facility from solar radiation, warm air infiltration, fans, lights, people, and other
equipment, so any measures to reduce heat load will help reduce energy use. A recent study
done in the UK looked at chilled, frozen and mixed (chilled and frozen) stores and it was clear
from the data that a large range in efficiencies exists. The worst cold store consumed over 8
times as much energy per storage unit when compared to the most efficient cold store (Evans,
no date).
There are many excellent publications available on the selection of components of refrigeration
systems, fans, doors, controls, defrost systems and other equipment (Thompson et al 2002;
Winrock 2009). With assistance from the US Department of Energy’s Inventions and Innovation
Program, Advanced Refrigeration Technologies (ART) has commercialized an innovative
control for walk-in cooler refrigeration systems. The ART Evaporator Fan Controller is
inexpensive ($100 to $300), easy to install and reduces evaporator and compressor energy
consumption by 30% to 50%.
The choice of construction materials and type and amount of insulation will influence the heat
load on the cold storage structure. The design features of the facility, including its color, size,
shape and internal layout, can influence heat load and refrigeration efficiency. For example,
long, short, dark structures will incur more solar heat load than will square, tall, white structures
of the same internal capacity. IACSC publishes a wide range of specifications for designs for
cold storages and freezers ( The British Frozen Food Federation estimates that
improved cold storage management would allow the raising of evaporator temperatures from -
32°C to -28°C and would reduce energy use by 11% (BFFF 2009).
Impediments for adoption and use of cold chains
The use of the cold chain for reducing perishable food losses can be impeded by a wide variety
of issues and challenges. Among these are difficult agro-climatic conditions, such as high
temperatures in the humid tropics, or extreme heat in dry regions that increase the costs of cold
storage construction and power. Social norms may decrease demand for chilled or frozen
foods, as in some parts of India where “fresh” means food harvested the same day as it is
consumed. If costs and benefit assessments lead people to want to use the cold chain, its
adoption can be limited by a lack of access to reliable power, equipment, resources for public
and private sector investments, and a lack of qualified human resources. Currently the need for
the use of the cold chain in developing countries may be known and even accepted as cost
effective, but adoption is low due to a lack of appropriate agricultural research and development,
lack of training programs for capacity building, and the absence of national organizations
focusing on the cold chain.
Equally important is that there are mechanisms in place so that the increased value created by
cold chain investments will accrue to those making the investments. Farmers can be very
conservative and often limited in their ability to make investments. In order to invest in even the
simplest and lowest cost cold chain elements the farmer, handler or trader must be confident
that the market will reward the investment. This may not be the case if, for example, a farmer
builds an evaporative cooler but then finds that refrigerated transport is not available. Any
added value from using the pre-cooler on farm will be lost during open transport to market.
Such breaks in the cold chain are often a major impediment to individual investments in needed
cold chain elements. A comprehensive systems assessment is necessary to understand where
investment is necessary in any given country to best facilitate the investments made elsewhere
in the cold chain.
Training and capacity building for cold chain development
A recent review of cold chain development points out that "Even in many regions or sites where
adequate infrastructure is available, overall knowledge of proper cold chain practices,
maintenance (including availability of spare parts), and applications are weak in most of the
developing world, and it is generally worst in facilities owned or operated by government than in
facilities owned or operated privately" (Yahia, 2010). Yahia (2010) also reports, "There has
been reasonable growth in cold chain infrastructure in Morocco, Egypt, and lately in Libya, but in
all [developing countries] there is still major room for growth and much great efforts to improve
capacity training to form better technicians and to improve applications."
Extension efforts and training needs differ by target group, and there are often difficulties in
reaching smallholder farmers, women, youth, middlemen/traders and processors. Traders and
middlemen have been generally ignored although they have a large impact on temperature
management during handling and transport, and therefore upon the final quality of foods and
their potential market value. Future extension efforts should seek to include this group of men
and women in efforts aimed at adopting the use of the cold chain (Kitinoja et al 2011).
Training topics should include:
Commodity systems assessment s (identifying the causes and sources of losses)
Basic practices for reducing losses for perishable foods intended for cold storage
Technical subjects along the cold chain (postharvest handling, refrigeration, cold
storage, cold transport, food processing, etc.)
Value chain development (processes and practices)
Management topics (managing labor, equipment, finances, risk, marketing, etc.)
Logistics (interactive complexities of managing a cold chain system)
Engineering (including design, modifications, repairs, maintenance of cold technologies)
Food safety issues (including the potential impact of poor food safety)
Environmental issues
Energy efficiency
Capacity-building efforts undertaken in cold chain technology must be made more
comprehensive, and include technical knowledge on handling practices, research skills, access
to tools and supplies, cost/benefit information, extension skill development (training needs
assessment, teaching methods, advocacy), internet/web access, use of IT and cell phones for
information sharing and provision of follow-up mentoring for young scientists and extension
workers after formal training programs have been completed (Kitinoja et al 2011). And since
training and capacity building needs will shift over time as changes occur in agricultural value
chains and cold chains, continual formative evaluation to improve programs is needed to ensure
capacity building efforts continue to meet the needs of target audiences.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The use of cold is not a cure-all or a one-size-fits-all proposition, but is an important component
of an agricultural handling system or value chain in its entirety. Each type of fresh produce
and/or food product has a specific and limited storage potential related to its physiological
nature and lowest safe storage temperature, and the use of the cold chain can help reach this
potential and reduce perishable food losses. Misuse of cold will lead to higher food losses
along with added financial losses associated with the costs of cooling, cold storage, cold
transport and refrigerated retail market displays.
At present, the term “cold chain” is used interchangeably when referring to a value chain for
fresh tropical produce (at 12 to 18°C), chilled fresh produce and food products (at 0 to 4°C), or
frozen food products (at -18°C). Costs are much lower, however, when investing in and utilizing
a cool chain for fresh tropical and sub-tropical produce, this difference needs to be better
understood by public sector planners and private sector investors.
The term “cool chain” should be used when describing the agricultural value chain for handling
and distribution of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. Cool chain investments in simple, low
cost technologies such as evaporative pre-cooling, zero energy cool chambers and night-time
ventilated cool storage structures are cost effective and easy to manage, leading to increased
At present, the use of the cold chain is often avoided by food producers, handlers and
marketers due to its perceived high cost. Yet when 25 to 50% of foods are wasted after the
harvest, the real cost of production is much higher than it should be. Using "cold" as an
investment to prevent food losses can be highly cost effective in comparison to continually
increasing production to meet increasing demands for foods. Information on the costs of using
the cold chain and on the expected benefits in terms of increased volumes of food available for
sale, increased market value and improved nutritional value should be gathered and made
readily available to potential users and investors.
Most developing countries currently lack the basic infrastructure and educational program
needed to support the development of an integrated cold chain for distribution of perishable
foods. The public sector should provide funding for investments in basic infrastructure to
support cold chain development (i.e. electricity, roads), and for educational programs at the
primary, secondary and higher educational levels in order to promote the value of production,
handling and consumption of high quality, safe and nutritious foods. Governments should limit
disincentives (for example high taxes on imported refrigeration equipment) and invest in those
components of infrastructure and education that are currently missing in their development
efforts involving cold chains.
The use of the cold chain is often avoided by food producers, handlers and marketers due to its
perceived complexity and logistical challenges. There is a need to promote awareness and
local, national, regional and international capacity building and training of trainers in the proper
use of the cold chain. Once the cold chain is in operation, regular access to technical training
on cold chain management and cold supply chain logistics will be needed by both the public and
private sector.
Currently the lack of the use of the cold chain in developing countries leads to high food losses
and loss of market value, leaving little profit for farmers, handlers, processors or marketers,
while promoting the development of cold chains, could be a good source of new jobs.
Producers would benefit as the agricultural value chains for their food products are fully
developed, and new jobs would be formed all along the cold chain for those perishable
foods for which pre-cooling, cold handling, freezing, cold storage and refrigerated distribution
and marketing have been demonstrated to be cost effective.
Historically cold chains are often developed and utilized first for exports of higher value
commodities and food products, but once in place are also used for domestic handling and
marketing. Where cold chains exist for exported food products, they can be used as models for
education, capacity building and skill development, and expanded to include cold storage and
refrigerated distribution of perishable foods for domestic markets. Using the cold chain for
improving domestic food supply chains will lead to improved nutrition and food safety while
reducing food losses and lowering market prices for the local population.
Finally, we need to promote the use of cold chains as a means to prevent the waste of
limited natural resources. The resources required for agricultural production (i.e. land, water,
fertilizers, fuels, other inputs) are becoming more scarce and costly, and 25% to 50% of the
resources used to grow these foods are being wasted when perishable foods are lost before
consumption. Investments in the cold chain prevent the loss of foods after they have been
produced, harvested, processed, packaged, stored and transported to markets, which greatly
reduces the need for increased production to meet the predicted growth in future demand.
Reducing food waste also saves the water, seeds, chemical inputs and labor needed to produce
the food that is currently being lost. As local and global resources become scarcer and more
expensive, preventing food losses will become even more cost effective than it is at today's
resource prices. Public and private sector investors need to take into consideration how
investing in the use of the cold chain can generate savings due to the reduced need for
constantly increasing food production to meet rising consumer demand for perishable foods.
The author thanks Drs. Hala Chahine-Tsouvalakis, Kerstin Hell, Devon Zagory, Deirdre Holcroft
and James F. Thompson for their reviews of the early drafts of the manuscript. Dr. Adel A.
Kader, who provided technical input and general guidance for developing this White Paper and
related publications, passed away in December 2012 -- he will be greatly missed by those of us
who worked with him during the 40 years of his inspiring career in postharvest horticulture.
BFFF 2009. British Frozen Food Federation Report
Evans, J. no date. Cold storage of food: Review of available information on energy consumption
and energy savings options. Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre
GHI. 2010. The Global Harvest Initiative 2010 GAP Report: Measuring Global Agricultural
Gustavsson, J et al . 2011. Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and
Prevention. UN FAO: Rome
IIR. 2009. The role of refrigeration in worldwide nutrition. 5th Informatory Note on Refrigeration
and Food
Kader, A.A. 2006. The return on investment in postharvest technology for assuring quality and
food safety in horticultural crops. Journal of Agricultural Investment 4: 45-54.
Kitinoja, L., S. Saran, S.K. Roy, and A.A. Kader. 2011. Postharvest technology for developing
countries: challenges and opportunities in research, outreach and advocacy. J. Sci. Food Agric.
Kitinoja, L. 2010. Identification of Appropriate Postharvest Technologies for Improving Market
Access and Incomes for Small Horticultural Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
WFLO Grant Final Report to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March 2010. 318 pp.
Kitinoja, L. and J.F. Thompson. 2010. Pre-cooling systems for small-scale producers. Stewart
Postharvest Review, 2010, 2:2, 14p.
Kohli, P. 2010. Future of Cold Chain India. (powerpoint presentation)
Lipinski, B., C Hanson, R Waite, L Kitinoja, T Searchinger, J Lomax,. 2013. Creating a
Sustainable Food Future, Installment Two: Reducing Food Loss and Waste. World Resources
Institute Working Paper: June, 2013.
Mrema, G.C. and R.S. Rolle. 2002. Status of the postharvest sector and its contribution to
agricultural development and economic growth. 9th JIRCAS International Symposium on ‘Value-
Addition to Agricultural Products’, Ibaraki, Japan, pp.13-20.
Thompson, J.F., Brecht, P.E., and Hinsch, T. 2002a, Refrigerated trailer transport
of perishable products. University of California, Division of Agriculture and
Natural Resources Publication no. 21614.
Thompson JF, Mitchell FG and Kasmire RF. 2002b. Cooling horticultural commodities. In
Postharvest technology of horticultural crops, Third edition, Kader AA (Tech. Ed). University of
California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Publication 3311. 2002: 97 112.
USDA Handbook 66. 2004. Commercial storage of fruits, vegetables and nursery stocks.
Winrock International. 2009. Empowering agriculture: energy solutions for horticulture. USAID
Office of Infrastructure and Engineering and the Office of Agriculture; 79p. Available online:
Yahia, E.M. 2010. Cold Chain Development and Challenges in the Developing World. Acta Hort.
The Postharvest Education Foundation
2013-2014 Board of Directors
Lisa Kitinoja, President
Patrick D. Brown, Secretary
Devon Zagory
Diane M. Barrett
Hala Chahine-Tsouvalakis
Deirdre Holcroft
Chase DuBois
Copyright 2013 © The Postharvest Education Foundation
ISBN 978-1-62027-003-5
PO Box 38, La Pine, Oregon 97739, USA
... A cold chain for perishable foods can be defined as the uninterrupted handling of the product within a low-temperature surrounding during the postharvest steps of the value chain [24]. After harvest, a food cold chain pathway includes precooling, bulk storage, distribution, retail cooling and household refrigeration before consumption. ...
... After harvest, a food cold chain pathway includes precooling, bulk storage, distribution, retail cooling and household refrigeration before consumption. Although a cold chain does not necessarily have to include all of the aforementioned steps, it must involve at least one of these steps [24]. This section provides an overview of precooling and bulk storage methods for fresh fruits and vegetables. ...
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Fruits and vegetables, known for their large nutrient potential, are more susceptible to high postharvest loss than other crops. Factors such as perishability, poor post-production handling and storage and processing infrastructures, increase the magnitude of food losses. The postharvest loss of fruits and vegetables in Sub-Saharan Africa ranges from 30% to 50%. One key strategy to overcome such losses is through cold chain integration in value chains. However, most developing countries currently lack the basic infrastructure and management skills needed to support the development of integrated cold chains, particularly in rural areas, where up to 60% of overall food losses occur on the farm and in ‘first-mile’ distribution. Storage of highly perishable produce in a controlled environment with respect to temperature and relative humidity leads to quality and quantity preservation. This contributes to increases in food and nutrition security, household incomes and environmental protection. This review addresses the need for adopting and strengthening measures for the precooling and cold storage of fruits and vegetables to improve their value chains. A range of precooling and cold storage methods, their suitability, energy demands and the constraints on storage and distribution are discussed and recommendations are made on how to improve their accessibility for small-scale farmers in rural communities.
... At present, the total capacity of cold storage in China is increasing at an annual average rate of about 20%. Compared with the average capacity of 200 cubic meters per 1000 people in developed countries, the total capacity of cold storage in China has great potential for development [3]. From the view of cold storage energy consumption, the energy consumption level of the same type of cold storage in China is much higher than the average level in developed countries and the energy consumption is 26% and 46% higher than that of Britain and Japan [4]. ...
... (1) Different types of refrigerators with different storage capacities in Beijing were selected for monitoring and analysis, including ammonia refrigeration system and Freon refrigeration system, as well as civil cold storage and assembled cold storage. Verify the feasibility and applicability of the Standard (2) The comparative test of the same cold storage is carried out according to different seasons, different recording time intervals, operating temperature, temperature distribution in the storage, collection time intervals, and so on, to verify the applicability of the "Standard" method, test conditions, test time, and other provisions (3) The test data of all cold storage systems are classified and summarized, and the rationality of the indicators is verified by effective data calculation and coincidence analysis of monitoring indicators (4) The research work includes the arrangement of temperature points in the cold storage, the test verification of the collection time interval, the test verification of COP of the refrigeration unit, and the evaluation index verification of the energy consumption coefficient of energy-saving monitoring of the refrigeration system ...
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In this paper, the feasibility and applicability of the test and evaluation methods for the temperature and energy consumption coefficient in the cold storage system are tested and verified which is specified in the Beijing local standard “Energy Conservation Monitoring of Refrigeration Storage.” It also summarizes and analyses the test verification results of the evaluation index of the location of measuring points of temperature in refrigeration storage, data-collecting time interval of temperature in refrigeration storage, energy efficiency coefficient of the refrigeration unit, and energy consumption coefficient of the refrigeration. The study work provides technical support for making the monitor and evaluation methods which applies to the standard.
... The low-cost cold storage (CoolBot system) facilities allow growers to preserve locally grown produce for a longer period, in that way efficiently serving more local consumers (Dubey and Raman, 2016a). The installation and operational costs are significantly lower than conventional refrigeration systems reported by Saran et al. (2013), and Boyette and Rohrbach (1993), it has been widely accepted and used in different countries like Ghana, Kenya and India (Kitinoja and Cantwell, 2010;Saran et al., 2010;Kitinoja, 2013). This on-farm cold storage facility offers growers to earn more profit and reduces the need to transport produced for long distances (Dubey and Raman, 2016b). ...
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Conventional cold storage is financially impractical for farmers due to limited resources. A potential post-harvest management tool (CoolBot), which is relevant to the subtropical environment was introduced to investigate its applicability for extending the shelf-life of strawberries and controlling theirspoilages. Different precooling temperatures [4°C, 8°C, 12°C, control (22°C)] were evaluated as means of post-harvest management of strawberries to determine the optimum precooling temperature during the winter season of 2019–2020. Precooling to 4°C resulted in decreased ascorbic acid and titratable acidity losses. It also delayed the free radicle scavenging activity in strawberries and caused in lowered fruit decay percentage as well as weight loss percentage, and improved firmness, prolonged shelf life by more than 3 days, and preserved skin colour. The installation cost saving plus less postharvest losses contributed to net annual profit Tk. 6,777,000. Therefore, the results indicate that CoolBot could be an effective post-harvest tool for precooling strawberries to 4°C in subtropical environments.
... Cold chains also protect the goods from microbiological destructions during transportation at large distances. As a result, customers receive quality food with integrity in taste and nutritional value and drugs with all the bioactive components necessary for the safety of patients to whom it will be administered [131,132]. ...
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Over the last decade, there has been an increased interest in public health measures concerning food quality and drug safety in supply chains and logistics operations. Against this backdrop, this study systematically reviewed the extant literature to identify gaps in studying food quality and drug safety, the proposed solutions to these issues, and potential future research directions. This study utilized content analysis. The objectives of the review were to (1) identify the factors affecting food quality and possible solutions to improve results, (2) analyze the factors that affect drug safety and identify ways to mitigate them through proper management; and (3) establish integrated supply chains for food and drugs by implementing modern technologies, followed by one another to ensure a multi-layered cross-verification cascade and resource management at the different phases to ensure quality, safety, and sustainability for the benefit of public health. This review investigated and identified the most recent trends and technologies used for successfully integrated supply chains that can guarantee food quality and drug safety. Using appropriate keywords, 298 articles were identified, and 205 were shortlisted for the analysis. All analysis and conclusions are based on the available literature. The outcomes of this paper identify new research directions in public health and supply chain management.
Cold Chain Logistics (CCL) is comprised of equipment and processes that keep perishable products under controlled cold environment from production to consumer end in a safe, wholesome, and good-quality state. Typically, cold chain needs to deal with refrigerated facilities such as refrigerators, cold storage warehouses, refrigerated truck, and containers in the stage of production, processing, packaging, warehousing, transportation, distribution, and retailing. However, cold chain is not only about the facilities and equipment used in different stages. The integrity of the cold chain must be maintained from the very beginning of production or processing, through each link such as loading, unloading, transport, handling, and storage to the consumer end. To manage an integrated cold chain, the basic understanding of product characteristics, refrigeration, freezing, necessary facilities, and equipment is necessary. Automation and maintenance of cold chain equipment are also important functions in managing a cold chain.
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Paradoxically, refrigerating many fruits and vegetables destroys their quality, and may even accelerate their spoilage. This phenomenon, known as postharvest chilling injury (PCI), affects produce from tropical and subtropical regions and leads to economic and postharvest loss and waste. Low temperatures are used to pause the physiological processes associated with senescence, but upon rewarming, these processes may resume at an accelerated rate. Chilling-injured produce may be discarded for not meeting consumer expectations or may prematurely deteriorate. In this review, we describe progress made in identifying the cellular and molecular processes underlying PCI, and point to advances in biotechnological approaches for ameliorating symptoms. Further, we identify the gaps in knowledge that must be bridged to develop effective solutions to PCI.
Improving the cold chain system for perishable foods would both increase food safety by maintaining quality and reduce business operation costs by minimizing food loss from inappropriate management. This has led to various attempts to apply blockchain technology (BCT) to the food cold chain, such as IBM's FoodTrust and Alibaba's Food Trust Frameworks. This system is expected to guarantee food traceability and sustainability. In this research, we focused on the importance of maritime and aviation transportation in the entire supply chain, and we established the BCT-based beef cold chain system, which includes the reefer chain. Specifically, we raised the monitoring and physical infrastructure issues at the port (or airport) and maritime (aviation) transportation node and took these into consideration. Additionally, we conducted scenario analysis to investigate the effects of the suggested system. The amount of food losses and the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are calculated by different scenarios in accordance with the recall recovery time and node where a recall occurrence is recognized. For both import and export models, when the proposed BCT-based beef cold chain platform is applied, the number of discarded reefer containers and the associated GHG emissions go down by 42.1% and 21.8%, respectively. Interestingly, when we assumed the recall recognition stage was right after the defects occur, the largest effects of improving performance of the proposed platform were 48.3% in import (IM) node of the port level. These results will provide a needed solution for cold chain management at the government level and affirms the essential role of the port/airport in the cold chain.
Cold storages are of great importance in preserving the freshness of foods. The ability of foods to preserve their nutritional value depends on conditioning the room air at the right temperature and humidity. The temperature and humidity balance is realized with the conditioned air supplied from the evaporators to the environment. In this study; in cold storage rooms, the position of the evaporators in the room, which are used to distribute the cold air to the storage environment, on the temperature and speed distributions, on the product losses caused by the air flow, has been investigated. Experimental study was carried out in a cold room with citrus fruits. The data obtained in the experimental studies were compared by simulating in the CFD program for the same storage conditions, and the overlap and usability of the results were determined. Various evaporator positions were simulated and their temperatures and product stacking conditions were tried to be determined. In case the evaporator is positioned on a single wall; air distribution and temperature conditioned by product stacking are not rigid. In case the evaporators are positioned opposite each other on narrow walls, it has been determined that it would be more appropriate to stack the product in the middle of the storage and at appropriate intervals. The position of the evaporator on wide single walls provides the temperature to be evenly distributed, but on the other hand, it may cause moisture loss in the product. During the establishment of a cold air facility or in existing cold rooms, it is thought that product stacking forms, air flows and temperature distributions firstly simulating with CFD analysis program will reduce product losses, energy savings, and gains in time and operating costs.
Chain breaking will result in huge losses for both the practitioners of the supply chain and the consumers of the supply chain. Once the cold chain logistics is broken, the employees will face huge economic and reputation losses; Consumers may suffer physical and psychological harm directly due to the spoilage of products caused by chain breaking. There is no doubt that how to solve the problem of cold chain breaking has become an important issue in the cold chain logistics industry. Based on the analysis of the main causes of chain break in cold chain logistics, this paper constructs a breaking risk assessment index system of the cold chain logistics, and uses MATLAB software to build an evaluation model using BP neural network to evaluate the possible chain break risks in the example of cold chain logistics enterprises. The risk assessment model of cold chain logistics based on BP neural network can provide some reference for cold chain logistics enterprises to preestimate the risk of chain breakage and formulate risk prevention measures.KeywordsChain breakingCold chain logisticsBP neural network
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World Resources Institute (WRI) white paper
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Purpose of review: To identify pre-cooling systems and cooling methods that are suitable for smaller scale horticultural producersFindings: A range of pre-cooling systems are available for small-scale horticultural producers and their suitability is described, in terms of availability, ease of use, capital cost, energy requirements. Expected benefits of using pre-cooling are also discussed.Limitations: Many of the mobile pre-cooling systems currently available on the market have been developed by commercial companies and most have not been scientifically evaluated in comparison to known stationary systems such as a cold wall. There is relatively little published information about the suitability of small-scale hydro-cooling, evaporative cooling and mobile forced-air cooling systems, especially regarding the range of crops and environments found in developing countries.Directions for further research: Future research needs include identification and characterization of lower cost pre-cooling methods and continued efforts to improve their cooling efficiency and reduce their energy use. Efforts to standardize and test management practices that conserve energy should be undertaken in order to further improve financial benefits.
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This article discusses the needs and challenges of developing good, science-based, simple methods for postharvest handling that can be made available in developing countries. Some of the traditional challenges have been successfully met (i.e. identifying causes and sources of losses for key crops, identifying many potential postharvest technologies of practical use for reducing losses), but many challenges remain. These include the characterization of indigenous crops in terms of their unique postharvest physiology (e.g. respiration rate, susceptibility to water loss, chilling sensitivity, ethylene sensitivity), ascertaining the differences between handling recommendations made for well-known varieties and the needs of local varieties of crops, and determining cost effectiveness of scale-appropriate postharvest technologies in each locale and for each crop. Key issues include building capacity at the local level in postharvest science, university teaching and extension, and continued adaptive research efforts to match emerging postharvest technologies to local needs as these continue to change over time. Development of appropriate postharvest technology relies upon many disciplines that are relevant to the overall success of horticulture, i.e. plant biology, engineering, agricultural economics, food processing, nutrition, food safety, and environmental conservation. The expanding pool of new information derived from postharvest research and outreach efforts in these areas can lead in many directions which are likely to have an impact on relieving poverty in developing countries.
The cold chain (pre-cooling, cold storage, refrigerated transport, and refrigerated display during marketing) is a requirement for a successful postharvest industry in any country. Major developments have been observed in the last decade in the cold chain industry in the world, including in some developing regions. World total cold chain capacity in the last decade has increased. In the developing world (DW) it more than doubled in India and increased 66% in Brazil, and 20% in China, but still very little or none in many regions of the DW. The increasing capacity is driven by greater reliance on the cold chain to meet growing trade and consumption of better quality perishable foods, needs to meet international standards of quality and food safety, the retail boom and a growing middle class in these countries. In general, the cold chain in the DW is still not developed adequately, and still needs major improvements, with challenges facing the industries. Building and/or owning cold chain facilities is very expensive for most businesses in the DW, and there is inadequate support from companies that specialize in renting cold chain spaces and instruments. Therefore, companies that need cold storages become involved in construction and/or buying, with very little opportunities for renting the service. Erratic (or even lack) of power supply in many regions of the DW, especially in regions with warm climate or during the warm season is a serious problem. In some regions of the DW the cold chain industry is characterized by poor return on investment compared with other businesses. In addition to the lack of adequate cold chain application and cold chain infrastructure in many regions of the DW, the overall knowledge of proper cold chain practices is very weak in most regions of the DW, and the number of adequate and properly trained technicians is very limited, especially among small companies.
Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention. UN FAO: Rome IIR. 2009. The role of refrigeration in worldwide nutrition. 5th Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food http
  • J Gustavsson
Gustavsson, J et al. 2011. Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention. UN FAO: Rome IIR. 2009. The role of refrigeration in worldwide nutrition. 5th Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food
British Frozen Food Federation Report
BFFF 2009. British Frozen Food Federation Report
Status of the postharvest sector and its contribution to agricultural development and economic growth
  • G C Mrema
  • R S Rolle
Mrema, G.C. and R.S. Rolle. 2002. Status of the postharvest sector and its contribution to agricultural development and economic growth. 9th JIRCAS International Symposium on 'Value-Addition to Agricultural Products', Ibaraki, Japan, pp.13-20.