HOW THE AIR CARGO INDUSTRY IS SHIPPING PERISHABLES
Chris Connell, president of Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), one of the largest logistics firms in the United States specializing in perishables transportation, says that for the past three decades the mantra governing the packaging of produce has been a bit simplistic: Perishables should be packaged in bubble wrap with some cooling agent attached on the outside, except in the case of high-value commodities such as top-end healthcare cargo that can absorb the high cost of using airfreight containers with active temperature control capabilities.
For most perishables, cost pressures have put the emphasis on passive temperature-control solutions, primarily in packaging. The airlines and operators at airports have expanded and improved temperature control onboard their aircraft and in warehouses, but the interfaces from plane to warehouse expose the cargo to temperatures that can spoil or at least reduce shelf life of the produce
“We try to maintain temperature for at least 48 hours to make sure a shipment makes it well through customs clearance,” says Larry French, senior consultant, Cold Chain Solutions, Research & Development at Ernest Packaging Solutions. He adds that the target has been to maintain temperatures at as close to 5 degrees Celsius as possible.
The combination of bubble wrap and coolant has worked reasonably well, Connell notes, but CFI is searching for solutions to maximize protection and shelf life. New materials have been developed in recent years that offer more advanced qualities in maintaining ambient temperature and humidity that protect against radiation, vapors and gases.
Since 2012, DuPont Protection Technologies has been offering Tyvek Air Cargo Covers. Developed in response to one customer’s issues with maintaining its cold chain, the covers offer protection against temperature excursions and physical hazards such as rain, insects, condensation and harmful gases and vapors. Several airlines and forwarders have utilized these covers which are significantly lighter than reflective blankets, says Frederic Fleury, Global Marketing leader with DuPont’s Tyvek Graphics and Protective Packaging.
Connell is pleased with Tyvek covers but he and French are looking to develop more targeted solutions that can address the specific characteristics of individual commodities such as cherries, asparagus or berries.
“We try to put up a better scientific model to create value for customers, which means we have to understand their products and needs better and apply any quantitative way to measure that,” says French. A commodity’s response to change in atmospheric pressure, loss of humidity, convection and radiation are factors on the radar, he adds.
Connell points to the outbreaks of E. coli and Listeria over the past 18 months. “There will be additional pressures on the supply chain. Cargo will not only have to be cool-chain compliant, but also food-safety focused.” He expects new options to evolve over the next six to 12 months, but not all to be viable for produce shippers due to cost that can be heaped on the final sale sticker of the commodity in question.
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