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What Really Affects the Quality of Fresh Produce through the Distribution Chain
Home Foods & Drinks Food
By: Tom New Email Article
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We take a quick look at the most common causes of damage to food quality and fresh produce quality specifically, based on the results of quality inspections conducted over the last 15 years. If you take a starting premise that your fresh produce enters distribution in good condition, then the most likely three factors to negatively impact on this quality will be the time it spends in the distribution chain, the temperatures it encounters while in distribution and the way in which the people within that food distribution chain treat the product.

Article: Having taken a little while to think about the last 15 years of fresh produce quality inspections that have passed through this office while I have been here, it occurs to me that there are only a finite number of contributing factors when I think about what really damages food within the distribution chain. This is especially true if I focus on a specific food category such as fresh produce, as I was doing this afternoon. It may warrant a separate entry to look at some different food types such as vacuum packed meat or dairy, but in terms of fruit and vegetables, if you are involved in the purchasing or distribution of fresh produce, I would estimate that controlling these 4 points would put you in control of 90% of your 'in-distribution' quality factors.

Food Quality Factor 1 - Time This is, after all a perishable product. In fact, for some products it can prove extremely difficult to reduce the time in distribution to a period which is going to leave enough shelf life and remaining food quality to really get use out of the product. In these circumstances it is vital that the food distribution is set up in a way that will minimise extra time in distribution caused by incorrectly picked items as an example, or incorrectly rotated food picking in cases where stock is held in distribution centres.

Food Quality Factor 2 - Temperature This may be the hardest element to control of all, as many organisations involved in large scale food purchasing and distribution are having to move a wide range of products in a single vehicle, which more often than not requires a single temperature. We have all had to put up with the quality impact on bananas when they are kept by a supplier in double figures Celsius to ripen at the right time for supply to the customer, then stored and distributed at three degrees to cater for those products which need low temperatures for food safety reasons, then kept out of the fridge at a retail or catering type of unit once they arrive. That change in temperature alone, aside from the effect of the lowest temperature, can be devastating.

On the other end of the scale, it can be equally difficult to maintain low temperatures during warm months during those multi-drop parts of food distribution. This entry is about food quality rather than food safety, so we won't get stuck in the potential risks other than to food quality and shelf life expectations, but it is entirely possible for goods to encounter temperatures twenty Celsius for extended periods of what is expected to be a chilled distribution chain. Food quality will almost immediately begin to suffer under these circumstances.

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Tom New is currently the MD of food quality inspection and consultancy firm FSL Food Quality Assurance

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