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Current Position:Home » News » Food Technology » Topic

Temperature modelling is crucial to export success

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-07-10  Views: 4
Core Tip: Two of Australia's leading produce companies say they have already learnt valuable lessons after starting a project into temperature monitoring in their export chains.
Two of Australia's leading produce companies say they have already learnt valuable lessons after starting a project into temperature monitoring in their export chains.

The project, in consultation with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, is currently 18 months into the four year duration, and Principal Supply Chain Horticulturist Noel Ainsworth told a Hort Connections seminar it is focused on a number of countries throughout Asia, with both air and sea freight consignments.

"The project's key components that are brought to bear here look at monitoring, being able to utilise data through decision making tools, and modelling and communications programs," he said. "At present many exporters do utilise some sort of temperature monitoring, but most people use simple USB loggers which are often thrown away or never accessed. They are only used at times of absolute disaster or problem or dispute. So in most cases, there is no data coming back through the chain."

Montague Fresh is one of the companies that is involved in this project, and has been monitoring his stone fruit exports to China, after protocols were granted in 2016 for nectarines, and in 2017 for plums, peaches and apricots. However, the first shipment of exports from the company arrived poorly, according to General Manager, Rowan Little.

"Sales were slow, the fruit flavour wasn't great, the importers were unhappy, and the market volume and returns weren't great for growers," he said. "So this project was actually very important in helping us to refine what we needed to do."

The issues that came from this initial shipment included setting realistic expectations with importers about what could be delivered, as well as removing the "set and forget" mentality, by actually collecting real-time data to discover what was happening to the fruit during transportation. But Mr Little says different varieties of stone fruit reacted differently, and by increasing the market visits and logging in the second year, it was discovered that sea was the better method of transport for this fruit.

"Our view is to be successful moving volumes into China, you have to do it by sea, so that was an incredibly important learning for us," he said. "We then followed that up another market visit in January, when it arrived to see actually how good the fruit, once it had been shipped, what was the condition."

They were also able to set up an area for importers, who could sent the import data through mobile phone technology by automatically downloading it once the product entered a specific area. From the logging of the sea freight consignment, Montague was able to learn that the temperature was maintained throughout the whole journey from packing, however the concern was the time it took, which was over 30 days. While the air freight time was much faster, temperatures were higher, which reduced its shelf-life.

But the data collection did not end there, static trials were conducted using 11 different cultivars, grouped into different levels of maturity, under a temperature management model.

"The concerning result was that only three of the 11 cultivars actually made it through the supply chain and arrived to the consumer in a state where we would say they were at optimal for eating. So if we are only getting three from 11 making it, that means that there are eight cultivars that are arriving at market and consumers are getting a poor eating experience."

Mr Little says the main focus for the company, moving forward with this new information, will be on the successful cultivars and dropping those which don't come up to scratch, as well as shortening the time from harvest to consumer, which can take up to 50 days. Ultimately Montague are seeking to form models from this project that can show based on seasonal situations and transport conditions, which varieties will provide the best consumer experience.

Major mango producers Manbulloo has one of two operating heat treatment plants in Australia and its own export company, but Quality and Export Manager Scott Ledger admits that while they thought they knew what was happening with their mangoes in terms of temperature management, after becoming involved in this project, it turns out they knew very little. It has been monitoring air and sea freight and over the past three years, including 17 air freight shipments, and four sea freight shipments.

"What we have found is that we have monitored 17 air shipments and the temperature profile on every one of those shipments was different," Mr Ledger said. "Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don't, but currently we don't know without temperature monitoring whether we are getting it right or not. The next thing we discovered was the temperature was variable within pallets. We are trying to manage the transport of the fruit while it is trying to ripen and the ripening mangoes generate heat, so we are getting temperature variation of 5-6 degrees within a pallet, from perimeter to inside."

It was also found that they while they had the cooling facilities available before shipment, they were not doing it effectively, and the produce was also not being cooled properly on arrival, or on the shop floor. There was also problems with the sea freight shipments.

"The journey from Townsville port to Hong Kong is only 11 days, but when we monitored how long the fruit was in the controlled atmosphere sea container it was actually 24 days," Mr Ledger said. "So through this close monitoring we have been able to identify that the time in the chain is actually too long for sea freight."

These discoveries have allowed Manbulloo to change practices such as training staff to ensure the forced air coolers are loaded effectively, as well as cooling the fruit again once it arrives at the destination, while the company has stopped using sea freight to lower risks of losing money due to poor quality.

"Certainly this year we have had an improvement in the consistency of the quality and the ripeness," Mr Ledger said. "We are nowhere near where we want to be, but we are moving in the right direction. The project has been very valuable in terms of being able to evaluate various technology. We don't want just data, but information that we can easily interpret. (What we want) through the simulation of information, is to be able to predict how much shelf life that product will have."

 
 
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