Response to feature in October issue of Cold Link Africa

Response to feature in October issue of Cold Link Africa

Compiled by Benjamin Brits

Our October issue’s feature titled ‘Refrigerated trucks: Not just a coolerbox’ received the following responses from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and the Southern African Refrigerated Distribution Association (SARDA).

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South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) response to questions raised through published feature in Cold Link Africa

Response issued by Jodi Scholtz, Lead Administrator of SABS

The logistics sector and cold chain management in South Africa received a massive boost when the bilateral agreement between the German development agency, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and the dtic was concluded. The agreement resulted in the funding of a thermal vehicle test chamber at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) facility in Pretoria, South Africa, which is capable of testing the insulation integrity of refrigeration units on logistics vehicles. 

The SABS thermal test chamber, which is currently fully operational and is equipped to conduct tests to SANS 1744 – Insulation for special equipment used in refrigerated transport, was established in 2017.

The SABS is reviewing the pricing model for tests on the thermal test chamber and we aim to provide a bundled offering that includes local content verification certification (LCV) with the SABS type scheme.

Background

The SABS is aware of the sentiment within the industry that relates to the pricing of tests and the ability of the SABS to conduct partial tests. Since its inception, the SABS laboratory has tested about 15 refrigerated trucks, which we concede is below the chamber’s testing capacity.

Initially the SABS was only able to test the ‘whole’ unit; that is the thermal unit and the refrigeration unit, due to an internal decision that was made to cease the partial testing of vehicles. This decision has been reversed in 2019, and the SABS can now accommodate a variety of customer requirements regarding the testing of the thermal units on vehicles.

The second issue concerns pricing and SABS is in discussion with industry to review its pricing structure. It is important, therefore, to note that the test chamber which was funded by the bilateral agreement, still requires the SABS to maintain the facility, carry the operational costs, the costs of test officers and the administration expenditure related to offering the certification type scheme, costs that are borne by SABS.

The way forward

Currently the SABS does not have the authority to set or enforce regulations regarding the thermal units, as the national standard is a voluntary one.

The SABS is currently embarking on an engagement campaign with our retailers and logistics customers and suppliers into the retail sector, to offer the testing and local content verification services.

Why the need for a SARDA association?

Response By John Ackermann, founder of SARDA

The concept of maintaining the temperature of perishable foodstuffs from sea, land or hoof to fork, has been documented extensively for decades. The implementation of the cold chain, or chill chain, is to extend the shelf life and maintain the quality of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and even cut flowers.

To safeguard food safety and for the international trade in perishables, a significant contributor to South Africa’s GDP, the cold chain is vital. No matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced the equipment, and monitoring systems are in place to enforce the cold chain, the human element remains key to its effectiveness.

Close co-operation and understanding between each link in the cold chain is of utmost importance. After the chilling, cooling or freezing of the product at source (for example blast freezer for vegetables, forced air cooling tunnels for grapes, milk pasteurisation, carcass chiller, fish ice bunker), no cooling other than maybe 1 to 3°C is done by any of the other role players (links) in the chain.

The cooling capacity of cold chain equipment is generally not sufficient to reduce the product temperature other than by 1 to 3°C. Products should not be transferred from one link to another if not within the required temperature range and the transfer of product should be done in the shortest possible time.

Why is this concept referred to as the cold chain? As in the case of a linked metal chain, the cold chain is only as ‘strong’ as its weakest link. If the cooling in the distribution centre (DC) is poor, the product temperature will increase while in the DC and this will impact on the shelf life and quality. Similarly, if the product gains temperature in a refrigerated vehicle, the quality at fork/table will be reduced.

Here it must be added that the quality of a perishable cannot be improved by the cold chain no matter how effective. The quality of product at source can only be maintained to the final point of consumption by an effective cold chain without any weak links along the way.

A close collaboration and an understanding of the role of the link upstream and downstream is required by all role players from source to destination to maintain product quality, food safety and to extend the shelf life to the time of consumption.

In 1990, because of common flaws in the cold chain, role players from across the country convened and gave birth to the concept of an industry association that would strive towards excellence in the distribution of temperature-controlled perishables in Southern Africa. At first it was thought an association of refrigerated transporters was required. Soon it became evident that all role players that dispatched products into refrigerated vehicles or received product in refrigerated vehicles, need to come on board for the association to have any impact on an inclusive cold chain distribution of all perishables across South Africa, across its borders and internationally.

On 5th June 1990, SARDA (Southern African Refrigerated Distribution Association) was constituted at its first AGM held in Johannesburg. In many aspects SARDA was unique in that its membership included food processors, growers, dairies, food distributors, public cold stores, refrigerated transporters, supermarkets, equipment suppliers, PPECB, Capespan and even the Housewives League of South Africa, when they were in existence.

Regular meetings and forums of SARDA highlighted common food safety issues, changes in national health regulations, lobbied for beneficial changes in the road traffic act and networked with overseas associations.

The decline of SARDA in recent years can be attributed to the lack of funding and manpower. The functioning of SARDA relied heavily on voluntary participation in the management and administration. Annual fees were kept at a minimal level and members often sponsored towards the cost of forums, breakfast meetings and promotional campaigns.

The role of SARDA is as relevant today as it was three decades ago. The cold chain industry needs a single voice that will lobby government for the registration of refrigerated vehicles, give recognition to role players that maintain quality standards, implement training in cold chain management techniques and promote collaboration across the distribution chain to reduce food wastage. All parties need to participate, not only one link, for these objectives to be realised and SARDA should provide this forum.

For many years SARDA members have called for a test chamber for the thermal efficiency of refrigerated vehicles, to reduce the power usage of vehicles to maintain product temperature, to benchmark vehicle construction methods, to assess when vehicle bodies need to be replaced and so on.

Financing could be raised for the construction of the chamber. GIZ provided the required funding, technical know-how and training to establish a test chamber at the SABS. The chamber has become a white elephant because consensus cannot be reached between the SABS and role players.

Testing cannot become a legal requirement for all vehicles with only one chamber for the entire country. Charges need to be affordable. To bring about a higher utilisation of the chamber will require many meetings, discussions, compromises and the lobbying of government. SARDA needs to act as the facilitator, but also requires funding to do so.

The cold distribution chain is a large user of energy and has a role to play in the fight against global warming. To reduce the carbon footprint requires collaboration of all parties across the chain. Facilitating such collaboration is another vital role of SARDA.

Food wastage is estimated at approximately 30% of all perishables that enter the cold distribution chain and yet globally nearly 1 billion people are undernourished because of lack of food. The entire distribution chain needs to collaborate in reducing food wastage. Another role of SARDA.

Food safety is of utmost importance because of food scares that have occurred in South Africa and the resultant deaths. How can this be prevented? Collaboration by all parties in the distribution chain and awareness campaigns. Another role of SARDA.

Can SARDA be revitalised? Yes, it can! All that is required is action by more proactive roleplayers and strong support other than a volley of words.

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