Keeping Cool: Sustaining The Produce Cold Chain

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As consumers worldwide become more health conscious, demand for fresh produce continues to grow. The cold chain helps distribute produce around the world as it helps control temperature through the transportation and storage processes. With a short shelf life, temperature control helps preserve the quality of the produce, and with the right cold chain processes in place, shippers can avoid spoilage. In recent years, technology improvements, and demand for temperature control, has evolved the produce industry. Below are a few trends that continue to evolve the produce cold chain:

Not So Cool Challenges

Every year one-third of all food produced ends up spoiling before consumption1. Although fresh produce and cold chain demand is increasing, there are many challenges that farmers and carriers face. The temperature-controlled equipment is capital intensive and energy dependent. Aside from the equipment, those involved in the process must abide by regulations of all regions from which their produce passes through. Requirements and standards vary based on the type, origin, and destination of the produce. Storage may also be an issue since finding temperature-controlled real estate and warehouse space is also a challenge. As capacity in areas across North America tighten, shippers are struggling to store their produce that requires certain storage climates to retain quality. In response, shippers are beginning to find available space far in advance or developing their own facilities to meet custom needs. In some instances, this could be a warehouse that can maintain five completely different temperatures based on the type of goods they are storing. Any disruption within the supply chain process could tamper with the quality of the produce and diminish its shelf life.

Emerging Markets

Population and demand for fresh produce have grown simultaneously. Underdeveloped markets have been investing in ways to improve the flow of produce into new areas. In particular, China and India move 25% more refrigerated goods in and out of the countries; however, there is still a lot of improvement to be made. If these underdeveloped countries had more sophisticated cold chain infrastructures, similar to those in Canada and the United States, they would save about 200 million tons of wasted food per year increasing the world’s overall food supply by 14%1. As countries continue to develop their cold chain infrastructure, the global cold chain is expected to grow 13.9% into 2020 as more countries focus on the movement of fresh food2.

Improving Infrastructure

There are major infrastructure improvements underway across the globe to strengthen the integrated global supply chain. In the United States, ports are implementing more temperature-controlled capabilities so shippers and carriers can easily store and move their refrigerated containers from ships to other modes. Produce from South America does not typically go to the ports in the south because their warm temperatures make them more prone to parasites. Instead, it generally goes to more northern ports with cooler outdoor temperatures to improve quality retention. In response, the southern ports are beginning to invest in more equipment to help optimize the flow of produce. For instance, the Port of Savannah has moved to improve capabilities to store and move produce throughout the south. The ports aren’t the only one’s improving temperature capabilities. In Canada, the Canadian National Railway recently announced a plan to invest $20 million CAD to expand its cold chain capacity3.

Navigating the Possibilities

One of the most important aspects to having a successful produce supply chain is to have an optimized process for each good. As regulations are established and infrastructure improves, it’s important to stay informed. Knowing the commodity along with the regulations across locations can help improve timing and overall shelf life. Many shippers will work closely with a 3PL to have them manage this process. Based on the commodity, origin, and destination, a supply chain partner can determine the best route and modes for the goods to improve cost and time. The 3PL’s expertise in customs, borders, and infrastructure will allow shippers to focus on their core competencies.

Delivering safe, quality produce is a common goal for all food shippers. The produce cold chain industry will continue to grow and evolve to incorporate new technology, regulations, locations, and volume levels. As the industry changes, farmers should continue to stay up to date on how they can utilize these improvements in their supply chains.


  1. http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/
  2. http://www.foodlogistics.com/article/12078826/emerging-markets-point-to-future-cold-chain-infrastructures
  3. http://www.foodlogistics.com/news/12161216/global-cold-chain-to-grow-139-through-2020
  4. http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/class-i-railroads/canadian-pacific-railway/cn-railway-investing-cold-chain-capacity_20150808.html