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  • Writer's pictureJan Peterson

Let's Talk "Cold Chain"

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

As Steven Daum of Floralife says, "In real estate it's all about location, location, location. In flowers, it's temperature, temperature, temperature." A flower, whether before or after it is cut, is in a continuous state of respiration. The more a flower respirates, the shorter the shelf life. In order to reduce the respiration time, the flower must be kept as cold as possible, without freezing it. Fluctuations in temperature, even for a short period of time, will create condensation and encourage the growth of bacteria.

So how do cut flowers stay dormant before they arrive in your shop and what goes into keeping them fresh? The key is the cold chain process.

You may not be familiar with "the cold chain process" but every wholesaler lives by it. In my last blog I wrote a bit about the cold chain process and why it's important to the quality of the flowers. Here's a closer look at how it works.

What is the cold chain process?

The cold chain process is a logistics management process for perishable products that need refrigerated temperatures to maintain quality and safety from end to end. It involves performing a chain of tasks to prepare, store, and transport products so they stay cold and fresh during the entire process of delivery.

Why is it important?

Any disruption or failure within the cold chain management process during transit, processing, storage, and display may result in product spoilage, loss, and financial implications. Maintaining the correct temperature and product environment is a critical success factor in the supply chain for everyone involved from the grower, shipper, through to the end-customer.

How does the process work?

The cold chain has three main components: 1.) transport and storage equipment, 2.) trained personnel, and 3.) efficient management procedures. All three elements are important throughout the process in order to maintain the integrity of perishable product.

The following areas play a key role in the process of moving perishable product :

  • Storage: Cold chain management starts with cold chain storage equipment and facilities where the product originates.

  • Packaging: When products leave storage facilities, cold packaging is vital to maintaining and monitoring temperature and security. Insulated containers are used to keep products cold, improve transportation efficiencies, and prevent damage, waste, and loss.

  • Tracking: Data loggers and temperature indicators give companies, shippers, and their customers real-time temperature and GPS monitoring and tracking. This information is key to maintaining the cold chain, ensuring product quality. Data can be tracked to see if there are any breaks in temperature at any given point of transportation.

  • Transportation: Temperature-sensitive goods and products are moved around the world in a range of ways. Specialized cold chain vehicles such as refrigerated vehicles and reefer containers keep the products cold as they move across waterways, in the air, and along global/local roads and highways.

  • Customs clearance: The Customs clearance process is a vital step in the cold supply chain. A failure to comply with Customs clearance requirements can result in delays – causing product loss, risks to product quality, and additional expenses for storage, transport, and delivery. Keeping products cold during the clearance process is essential.

  • Delivery: Perishable products and goods reach their destination quickly and with as little disruption in temperature as possible.

How does the cold chain process work for flowers?

The cold chain process begins at the farm. Once the flower is cut it is stored in refrigeration, just above freezing to keep it dormant. Flowers are boxed and loaded into refrigerated containers and trucked to the airport. The cold cargo is loaded directly into the plane and flown to a receiving hub in the United States. The busiest major hubs include Miami, Los Angeles and JFK. Most flowers from foreign countries go through one of these airports.

Once the plane arrives at the airport, the cold cargo is loaded into refrigerated coolers at the airport and inspected (called the Plant Protection and Quarantine or PPQ). Once product is cleared by U.S. Customs, it moves to the next step. Boxes are loaded into refrigerated trucks to be delivered to the wholesaler. The wholesaler has a receiving cooler which the boxes are loaded into, until they are accounted for and put into inventory for sale.

Most vendor's products are held at the airline's cooler, awaiting the PPQ process. They are then transported to either an importer or freight forwarding facility to be sorted and prepared for shipment to the trucking company who will take them to the wholesaler.

At National, our receiving hub is in the Miami airport, so our cargo coming from South America goes directly into cold storage and bi-passes several steps. This saves critical hours in the process, eliminating up to one full day. Whomever you choose as a wholesaler, its critical that you understand the process and which vendors have superior cold chain procedures and facilities. We at National, believe we offer a leg up by reducing valuable time in the cold chain process.

The entire business of moving flowers is a complex global effort that requires manpower, proper equipment and technology to keep operations running smoothly. When you think about what goes into the life of a flower you sell to a customer, the process is mind boggling.

"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you won't know what you're doing."

W. Edwards Deming

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