An overview of the current status of the cold chain in China
A review article that was just published in the International Journal of Refrigeration investigates the present situation of the food cold chain in China.
China, traditionally an agricultural country, produces the largest amount of fruits and vegetables in the world. However, food losses throughout the supply chain remain high, notably due to the dominant small-scale production farm system in China, which consists of 250 million small-scale farmers.
This system causes high post-harvest food losses due to inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities, and a shortage of related knowledge and technology. The losses at the storage stage thus account for about 15–20% for vegetables, and 10–15% for fruit. The losses at the distribution stage are about 5–10% for vegetables and fruits.
In particular, usage of precooling, which is still limited in China and responsible for important losses, is gaining more and more attention. Since large-scale precooling devices are difficult to apply in China, movable forced air precooling facilities, pressure precooling containers or small-size (less than 100 tons) assembled constant temperature storehouses have been developed for various fruits and vegetables.
Freezing is used more and more as one of the most effective methods of food preservation. Frozen food production grew from 13.4 Mt in 2012 to 20.2 Mt in 2015. However, the annual growth rate fell from 20% in 2012 to 7% in 2015, as a direct result of the economic slowdown in China.
Cold storage capacity grew from 15.56 Mt in 2012 to 27.79 Mt at a compound growth rate of 26%. Similarly, the registered refrigerated trucks tripled, going from 26,000 in 2010 to 81,000 in 2015. Furthermore, in 2014 there were 91.7 and 77.6 household refrigerator units per 100 households in China’s urban and rural areas respectively. However, for all these sectors, the corresponding figures per capita are still quite low.
Regarding refrigerants, HCFC-22 is currently still the most widely used refrigerant for industrial and commercial refrigeration in China, especially in cold storage. However, the ammonia/CO2 cascade system has become popular within the past few years. R600a (isobutane) is now used in almost 90% of home refrigerators and freezers. And R290 (propane) has already begun to be used in display cabinets.
From 2010, the Chinese government promulgated several policies in order to develop an effective and efficient cold chain, especially aimed at supporting field precooling of large quantities of fresh produce, as well as cold storage and transportation. It placed particular emphasis on “Southern vegetables’ transportation to the North” and “Western fruits’ transportation to East”.
However, the authors also stress that there exists inconsistency among regulations and standards related to the cold chain in China. Most of them are recommended and not mandatory, which means that their proper application cannot be enforced.
Hongxia Zhao, Sheng Liu, Changqing Tian, Gang Yan, Da Wang. An overview of current status of cold chain in China, International Journal of Refrigeration
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