To reach store shelves, perishable items often embark on an extensive journey across states and even continents. Making this all possible are cold chain systems with uninterrupted series of cold storage and food distribution activities. The development of the system opened the doors to new markets in multiple industries, making it an export success. The U.S. food industry spends millions each year on moisture control and climate control solutions that allow businesses to prosper. As a result, cold chain systems are vital to global trade and the availability of food around the world.
What is a Cold Chain System?
The purpose of cold chain systems is to maintain the shelf life of perishable products using refrigeration solutions during production, holding, transportation and distribution activities. The process includes the use of climate control solutions and logistics to maintain low temperatures preserve the quality of the products and ensure consumer health.
Common items in cold chain systems include food, pharmaceutical drugs, film, cut flowers and chemicals. Temperatures generally range between 36°F to 46°F, depending on the cargo. When transporting produce, cold chains also require moisture control and specific air quality levels.
How Cold Chain Systems Influence Food Safety and Economic Growth
Perishable food products are unstable and vulnerable to the growth of harmful bacteria, mold, parasites and viral pathogens. Cold storage and food distribution processes in cold chain systems are designed to extend the product life of consumable goods, allowing them to hold their value for a longer period. The ultimate goal of cold chain systems is to move and transport perishable produces in ways that reduce waste, prevent contamination, and maintain their quality and integrity.
The key to promoting and ensuring food safety is maintaining the cold chain, as ambient conditions affect the chemical and molecular structures of food. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported in 2016 that “billions of tons of fresh food products and millions of dollars’ worth of U.S. exports are lost” annually because of poor cold chain systems in developing parts of the world. As a result, almost half of food harvested does not reach consumers. Without cold chain systems, food-related losses would be greater.
Globally, food distribution-related cold chain services have an estimated value of $250 billion. The United States is a global leader in the development of efficient cold chain technologies and management processes. Incidentally, the country is positioned to capture a large share of the global market for cold chain development, particularly in emerging markets.
Cold chain systems are critical to all stakeholders, particularly retail services providers and franchises. Between 2012 and 2014, refrigerated warehouse capacity increased by 20 percent worldwide. This is significant considering that three of the top five refrigerated warehouse operators by total volume are in the U.S. For every 322 million residents, there are 115 million cubic meters of cold storage capacity.
Retail sales of food have grown 10 to 15 percent globally and have a 50 percent market share in larger emerging markets. With U.S. food brands being known for their high quality and safety, their reputations and bottom line depend on having a cold chain with a reliable means to process, distribute and transport goods. Adding to the country’s economic growth in regards to cold chains is the rise of E-commerce services that deliver fresh and prepared foods to consumers, an industry that’s expected to reach $23 billion by 2020.
During the last several decades, U.S. cold chain systems have shaped the consumer market. Foods that were once seasonal are now available throughout the year. With the benefits of cold storage well known, the importance of climate and moisture control solutions is not lost on stakeholders throughout the supply chain. For this reason, companies throughout the country look to Polygon for its custom climate control and monitoring solutions to minimize losses at all stages of a cold chain system—from post-harvest to transportation to storage. Get in touch with Polygon today to learn more about how humidity and climate control can benefit your cold chain system.