Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reefer Shipping Container Specialist Joins UN SAVE FOOD Initiative

One Third of the World's Produce is Ruined or Discarded Whilst Almost a Billion People Go Hungry
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Often the contrasts which are most noticeable between public and private bodies are timing, efficiency and verbosity. We hear platitudes from governments and international organisations but often with little or lamentably slow action to back them up. Just occasionally however a connection is made between the two which, if properly managed, can make a world changing difference and, hopefully, the latest cooperation between the United Nations and the specialised container division of the world’s biggest shipping company, Maersk, will prove to be so as the box carrier’s reefer technology supports the UN SAVE FOOD programme.

The global problems of food spoilage and wastage are known to be serious but a study of the quantities involved would make anybody sit up and take notice. According to the UN, 830 million people across the world are chronically malnourished, yet the main producers are often the ones being affected by food shortage every day. The UN has an offshoot dedicated to the problems, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and its report on food losses estimates put the total of food wasted globally at one third of everything produced.

The FAO report’s analysis of the problems give perspective, stating that food losses in industrialised countries are as high as in developing countries, but in developing countries more than 40% of the food losses occur at postharvest and processing levels, while in industrialised countries, more than 40% of the food losses occur at retail and consumer levels. On the way from farm to fork in Europe or North America up to 50% of all fruit and produce is lost with distribution and transportation in this case account for about 5% of this loss but up to 20% in other regions.

Hence the involvement of Maersk, a company with a history of shipping refrigerated produce stretching back to 1936, long before containerisation. Now, with the assistance of its own dedicated subsidiary which invents, tests and produces containers suitable for a myriad purposes - Maersk Container Industry (MCI), the Danish based company has joined with UN SAVE FOOD to fight the unnecessary wastage which plagues the industry. An idea of the amount of effort MCI has put into development of its refrigerated containers can be seen on this short company video and confirms the practicality of establishing the manufacturing plants for its reefer boxes in China and Chile, principal export points for fresh produce.

MCI is launching initiatives to educate and inform the producers and distributors of foodstuffs requiring temperature controlled transport and storage. In November 2012 Chile's fruit exporters' association ASOEX and MCI signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange knowledge and optimise the use of technologies like Star Cool Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and Automated Ventilation (AV+), which extend the life for shipments of avocados, thus reducing peak season harvest pressure. For tropical areas, CA lengthens the life of banana shipments to 45 days against about 25 days previously (something of special interest to Maersk Line which shipped 8.4 billion of them last year). 

In April of this year MCI hosted a refrigeration expert conference on optimal handling of fruit and vegetables with keynote speakers’ postharvest experts Marita Cantwell and Beth Mitcham from the University of California, Davis, USA. Key advice in almost all cases was to take special care at time of harvest and, afterwards, ensure accurate temperature control and advice on this can be seen on the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center website. Speaking of the concerted effort underway to diminish the problem and of MCI’s involvement Robert van Otterdijk, team leader in SAVE FOOD, said:

"Using appropriate refrigeration technology to improve storage and transport conditions for harvested food can have a significant impact on reducing food losses and waste. Food is lost or wasted in all links of the food value chain, including transport and distribution. One way to improve is to share knowledge across all links in the food value chain.”

One of the important things for all involved is the minimisation of environmental impact of every aspect of the programme. The reduction in emissions and fuel consumption must be obvious to everyone, if the percentage of food produced which is then consumed rises then the same percentage of transport is reduced, probably not great for those in the supply chain in terms of turnover figures but good news for everybody else. MCI has made a special effort to develop the reefer equipment it believes is cutting edge whilst keeping a weather eye on the environmental impact.

All MCI reefer boxes are made with environmentally friendly SuPoTec® insulation (Sustainable Polyurethane Technology). Developed in 2002 using a cyclopentane base, hailed as a suitable alternative to ozone depleting CFC-11 and HCFC-141b, used previously in foam insulation. The global warming potential of a 40' reefer box with SuPoTec® is reduced to about 1% compared with a container made with HCFC141b with no damage to the atmosphere. MCI claim that as of 1 January 2013, the total SuPoTec® production had offset CO2 emissions equal to what 441,000 Danish citizens emit for one year.

All this innovation comes with a price tag, Maersk is stated to have spent $1.9 billion on development of its reefer business in the past five years but this is no speculative investment. The global trade for non ambient transport is predicted by most analysts to rise steadily with forty million more TEU reefer movements in 2016 than five years previously, mainly due to continued population expansion.

The SAVE FOOD initiative is a joint campaign instituted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and German trade fair group Messe Düsseldorf GmbH in May 2011 at the Interpack Exhibition of that year and designed solely to fight global food loss. SAVE FOOD aims at networking stakeholders in industry, politics and research, encouraging dialogue and helping to develop solutions along the food value chain with one of its aims is to enlist the support of industry in initiating and sponsoring its own SAVE FOOD projects.

More information on how Maersk transport temperature sensitive cargo can be seen in its ‘Cool Facts’ brochure.