One of the modern marvels of living in the United States is that we can sit down at the holidays and share meals of fresh food from across the country with menus featuring everything from Virginia hams to Maine lobsters to Wisconsin cheese to California vegetables to Florida fruit to Texas beef.
“Fresh – It’s the ideal way to consume food. The fresher the food, the more nutritious it is, which can lead to plenty of benefits: more energy, healthy blood pressure, a stronger immune system, improved organ function, healthy teeth, bones, digestive system, and much more. Oh, and it tastes better!” says Stearns Bank. “Thanks to the innovations of agriculture, foraging for our next meal is not a necessity – instead, we generally have a variety of meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables at our disposal.”
One of those innovations is improvements in cold storage that plays a vital role in keeping U.S. agriculture products from spoiling before it gets to the table.
“What makes all this possible in a vast country such as the US is the modern and efficient cold storage and cold chain transport system that is in place in our country,” says Hanzo Logistics.
We may take it for granted, or not even think about it, but cold storage is the link in the food supply chain that keeps us fed.
“Cold storage, also known as cold stores, cold chain, or large refrigerated warehouses, keeps fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats at the correct temperature to prevent waste and deliver safe products to consumers,” says Hanzo Logistics.
Cold Storage vs. Cold Chain: The Difference
Cold storage and cold chain may be used sometimes as interchangeable terms but there is a difference between the two.
Cold storage refers to a storage facility, usually a large warehouse, that can be climate controlled so that perishable goods such as dairy, frozen food, fresh produce, meats, and more can be stored to extend their life.
Advances in insulated metal walls and roof panels help these cold storage facilities, from warehouses to walk-in coolers, achieve high levels of thermal efficiency.
“Food products that require refrigeration or spoil quickly need this temperature control so that they can be stored after harvest or manufacturing and can be supplied throughout the year even at times of no production output,” says Hanzo Logistics. “This not only ensures that we get our favorite fresh fruits and vegetables even when they are out of season as well as prevents huge economic losses to the producers due to spoilage of their produce.”
Cold chain, on the other hand, refers to all the steps and stops along the supply chain that keeps food fresh in temperature-controlled conditions.
The cold chain can include:
- Cold storage warehouses
- Refrigerated trucks
- Freezers for retail
Another way to look at this temperature-controlled supply chain is to examine how items are kept cold from point of manufacture or creation to the end user. These elements can include:
- Packaging: Insulated shipping containers for fresh food; seafood is one example.
- Monitoring: Certain foods will need to have their temperature monitored while they travel the supply chain.
- Transport: Refrigerator trucks, refrigerated boxcars, and reefer containers all keep food cold in transport.
- Customs: Efficiency is crucial if customs are needed to keep the cold chain supplies from being delayed to the end users.
- Storage: Cold storage facilities such as temperature-controlled warehouses.
- End Customer: Delivery to the end customer along with required storage and usage requirements.
“It is the entire network of these temperature-controlled facilities that make it possible for the food and agriculture industry to be so efficient in the US whether it is fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, or processed food products,” said Hanzo Logistics. “Cold chain facilities are also used for other commodities such as medicines, flowers, live plants, and even artwork.”
Benefits of Cold Storage in the U.S. Agriculture Industry
The U.S. agriculture industry benefits in many ways from modern cold storage and the cold chain, including:
- Farm to Processing Facilities Transportation: Even in today’s “farm to table” environment, items are rarely truly straight from the farm to the end user. Processing, including sorting, cleaning, and packaging, requires stops at processing facilities and refrigerated trucks can keep products fresh as they travel between third parties.
- Long-Term Storage: Not all the products produced in the U.S. agriculture industry can be used instantly so it is crucial for the cold chain to keep products fresh by storing them for longer durations. Items are then ready to be shipped to market when needed.
- Designed for Specific Products and Their Needs: If the cold chain was “one-size-fits-all” then many products might perish but facilities can create specific environments for certain types of products to meet their refrigeration needs.
- Less Food Waste in Transport: As much as one-third of U.S. food production ends up being wasted and Hanzo Logistics says that 10 percent of the food produced is wasted in its journey from farm to table. Cold storage helps reduce the amount of food that is lost during transport.
- Helping Foods Cure or Mature: For some foods, especially in the meat and dairy sectors, climate-controlled environments are essential to the process of maturing or curing the foods to be consumed.
- Final Stop: Transportation to Retailers: The final step and some might argue the most critical, is the transportation from storage to retailers, who then sell the products to consumers. Fresh produce, dairy, meat, flowers, and other items must get to market on time and in the right conditions, or else they will perish.
“A strong food supply chain ensures that consumer food demands are met. Cold storage, in any capacity, ensures that as little goes to waste as possible every step of the way. Cold storage fits into the equation nearly everywhere,” says Stearns Bank. “As technology improves, this innovative industry keeps pace, answering developing demands with improved logistics and more sustainable approaches.”