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REFCOLD to spotlight food loss and remedial measures

ISHRAE-hosted exhibition will cover sectors such as cold storage and equipment, cold transportation and equipment, cold chain services and industrial refrigeration By Indu Revikumar, Features Writer, Climate Control Middle East (with inputs from Surendar Balakrishnan, Editor, Climate Control Middle East)

In anything we talk about regarding human sustenance, refrigeration is a very basic requirement, says Raja M Sriraam, Chairman, 6th Edition of REFCOLD India, from October 12 to 14, in Chennai, India.

The HVAC industry primarily focuses on providing human comfort, he says. The refrigeration industry is an essential one that operates continuously – 24/7, he says. Unfortunately, he adds, it often goes unnoticed and is taken for granted. Indeed, the upliftment and improvement of the refrigeration industry are overlooked by many, he further adds. Realising this, Sriraam says, the Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ISHARE) launched REFCOLD – a refrigeration cold chain exhibition, which amongst other aspects, focuses on cutting down food loss, a direct result of lack of proper storage facilities. In Sriraam’s estimate, the food loss is anywhere between 12% and 20% of the total produce.

The 6th edition of REFCOLD India will cover sectors such as cold storage and equipment, cold transportation and equipment, cold chain services and industrial refrigeration, Sriraam says. It will also focus on innovations and advancements in refrigeration and cold chain technologies, he says. Moreover, it will offer a platform for expanding and enhancing the cold chain business across major industries in India, utilising refrigeration and cold chain technologies, he says.

It is pertinent to note that the cold chain industry in India, referred to as the Sunrise Sector due to its growing indispensability and potential, reached INR 1,814.9 billion (approximately USD 22.1 billion) in 2022 and is exhibiting a CAGR of 12.3% during 2023-2028, as per a report by International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group. Sriraam says: “India is primarily an agricultural country with abundant farming resources. We also have a significant marine food industry. And India is one of the biggest exporters of shrimp to China and the US.” In this scenario, he adds, it is crucial to understand the significance of refrigeration facilities and their role in reducing the amount of food waste, decarbonisation and reducing the use of electricity during the storage process. “These advancements,” he says, “will, in effect, ensure that more people can access food at the same cost of production.”

Sriraam says REFCOLD aims to bring together participants from various sectors, including the healthcare industry, ice cream manufacturers and dairy producers. He particularly highlights the importance of the medical segment, where refrigeration technologies play a crucial role in storing blood, plasma and vaccines, and in IVF treatment. Joining the conversation and building upon Sriraam’s statement, Ajit Pandalai, Co-Chairman, 6th Edition of REFCOLD India, says that while air conditioning primarily focusses on offering comfort, refrigeration revolves around the concept of preservation; it plays a central role in terms of saving resources and reducing waste. Interestingly, Pandalai adds that each application comes with a specific set of requirements; for instance, seafood, dairy, agriculture or ice cream necessitates different temperature conditions. “Therefore, we are keen on ensuring that stakeholders from different segments attend the exhibition, so that they will get a wider understanding of the latest available products and technologies,” he says.

Sriraam, addressing the infrastructure requirements in a country like India, speaks on the importance of taking into account factors such as road connectivity, availability and the quality of power; transport refrigeration and the challenges faced in maintaining temperature control during transportation; and the need for a holistic approach to refrigeration that goes beyond technology, which would enable India to utilise its capabilities fully. To illustrate his point, Sriraam says certain products have specific temperature requirements, and this aspect is often taken for granted. “Grains are assumed to be resistant to spoilage,” he says. “However, loss happens due to a lack of knowledge among end users.” He further says this also happens in regions where electricity is scarce. One of the ways to tackle the problem is by giving solar-powered facilities for immediate storage of the product after harvest to help reduce losses, he adds.

Sriraam, emphasising the importance of transport refrigeration, says it plays a significant role, as it is crucial in preventing products from getting exposed to temperature fluctuations, once refrigerated. He adds that lack of awareness is contributing to products that require specific temperature maintenance getting exposed to heat during transit, which results in deterioration of their quality.

Sriraam, pointing to Europe, speaks of how the continent has a system of using specialised refrigeration systems that are specifically designed for certain products. “For instance, separate refrigeration units, such as Frigidaire 18, are dedicated to storing apples, cheese or other items, and these kinds of controlled atmosphere storage units are used to extend the shelf life of these products,” he says. On the other hand, he says, local shops in countries like India commonly have a single refrigerator housing milk, ice cream, meat and fruit, which may lead to their decay. In such a scenario, Sriraam says, characterised by a lack of knowledge or implementation, there is a need for education and awareness about refrigeration practices. “Technical workshops and training sessions can bridge the knowledge gap, providing detailed information on refrigeration types, temperature requirements and other intricacies,” he says. Bridging the gap through increased awareness and a better understanding of the industry, he says, will bring positive changes, especially in reducing carbon emissions, resulting from inefficient refrigeration practices.