Food Storage and Distribution

Have been delivering training to groups involved in the movement of food of all sorts, including fresh produce as a new venture, and the development of the materials has given a reason to think about the storage and distribution of food, and how it affects quality, particularly of fresh produce.

We spent some time looking at the nature of the supply chain for fresh produce, and that, if you count the United Kingdom as being at a center point of a world map, we source fresh produce from as far east as you can go, such as apples from New Zealand or garlic from China, and then as far West as you can go in the case of citrus from California, for example.  If you have a look at a world map there really isn't a sector of the world where fresh produce is not produced and shipped in some form, with the obvious exceptions of the extremities, and surely it can only be a matter of time before the scientists figure out a way to solve that too.

Food Storage and Distribution in a Global Supply Chain

The majority of these products travel by sea, rather than being of a viable weight for swifter air freight, and are by the nature of the product also perishable, which is then topped off by the requirement for very specific storage conditions in terms of temperature.  What makes life even more difficult for those involved is the consideration that even if those storage conditions are met, this product will not last forever, and the storage and distribution of fresh food is always a race against time.  A race to pack, then ship and then to store as effectively as possible while it is sold.  The process of deterioration and decay is completely inevitable no matter how well it is looked after.  This unique relationship can't help but put real pressure on food storage and distribution systems, and those individuals who work within it.

It was looking at the unique needs of storing and distributing fresh food, and trying to consider how to most effectively deliver training in the handling of fresh produce, that we really started to realised the symbiotic nature of the food supply chain, and to understand that we are all part of a system that spreads more widely than you think.

Think about the temperature requirements of different products, some of which want to be stored at or even a shade below freezing, while others really want to be into double figures celcius.  Mis-judging those temperatures greatly will have very clear and obvious effects of food quality, while even a small misjudgement in temperature will change the shelf life expectations of that product greatly, even if the result is not so immediately visible.

We also, during the course of this training, had lots of time to explore the ways in which the handling of food products can influence the life, condition and therefore value of the product, and how the nature of distribution requires those at every stage to take all of the steps they feasibly can to reduce the impact of that handling,  particularly when you consider how many stages of handling food can be subjected to before it arrives with a consumer.

Considering that fresh produce can move from grower to packer to shipper to importer to wholesaler to distributor to retailer before reaching a consumer, there has to be a great deal of trust between all of those various parties that the storage and handling of these food products has been as effective as possible, or at least a level of recognition in the competence of those at each stage of the chain to do the right thing by this very demanding product.

Certainly, as I picked up groceries for the weekend, looking at the array of internationally sourced fresh produce on offer I have to admit that all of these considerations did come back to me and I felt just a little hint of pride at being part of it.

Written by Tom New