India has always been struggling with the problem of food wastage. Despite being the world’s largest producer of milk and the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables, about 40 to 50 per cent of the total production ends up wasted.
India has about 6,300 cold storage facilities with a capacity of 30.11 million metric tons, which are only able to store about 11 per cent of the country’s total perishable produce. The cold chain market has grown steadily in the last few years and this trend is projected to continue until 2020.
While there are many positive changes in the Indian cold chain market, high operating cost is a major roadblock for the sector’s overall growth. Shortage of adequate infrastructure, lack of trained personnel, outdated technology and inconsistent power supply are other major obstacles in the growth of cold chain infrastructure in India.
Foods are stored at low temperatures to prevent the growth of micro-organisms, activity of enzymes and freezing prevents the growth of most food-borne micro-organisms and refrigeration temperatures slow down the growth of micro-organisms. Refrigeration below 5 degrees Centigrade effectively retards the growth of many food-borne pathogens.
Unique to fresh produce cargoes, the cold chain requires to additionally maintain product specific environment parameters which include air quality levels (carbon dioxide, oxygen, humidity and others), which makes this the most complicated cold chain to operate.
The cooling rate is important in controlling the growth of micro-organisms. A slow cooling of food allows time to microbial growth. This can occur in a large volume of hot or warm food in a big container. Refrigerated foods have limited shelf life due to microbial growth. In frozen foods, micro-organisms will not grow, but there will be survivors after long storage.
The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has laid out a scheme which is under implementation since 2008. The objective of the Scheme of Cold Chain, Value Addition and Preservation Infrastructure is to provide integrated cold chain and preservation infrastructure facilities, without any break, from the farm gate to the consumer.
The scheme covers creation of infrastructure facility along the entire supply chain viz. pre-cooling, weighing, sorting, grading, waxing facilities at farm level, multi-product/ multi-temperature cold storage, CA storage, packing facility, IQF, blast freezing in the distribution hub and reefer vans, mobile cooling units for facilitating distribution of horticulture, organic produce, marine, dairy, meat and poultry etc. The scheme allows flexibility in project planning with special emphasis on the creation of cold chain infrastructure at the farm level.
Cold chain supply management is wholly dependent on the quality of the infrastructure system in place. The ultimate goal for cold chain management is to deliver perishable foods, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals in a timely fashion while maintaining the quality of the products and increasing their shelf life.