Food Distribution

All you need to know about food refrigeration

5 December 2023 by Edina GÁLFI


Starting a new activity in the food distribution sector requires a minimum of knowledge about hygiene, food safety and the regulations. In fact, fresh and frozen foodstuffs are “living” products whose nutritional and organoleptic qualities deteriorate over time and depending on storage conditions (temperature, humidity, light, etc.). A combination of these parameters accelerates the process of “ripening”, which then needs to be slowed to keep the product in a consumable state, all the way from the field to the end consumer’s home. Very often that means for a few days, or even weeks: harvesting, sorting, processing, packing, transport and distribution.

It is therefore essential to think about food refrigeration, which will vary according to the products to be conserved.

1. Food refrigeration

Why do I need to keep my products cold ?

It is necessary to keep temperature-sensitive foodstuffs at the tight temperature to avoid the development and proliferation of certain germs (salmonella, listeria, staphylococcus aureus..). Refrigeration considerably limits the risk of these different types of food poisoning.  It is therefore used mainly for health reasons.

The products concerned are :

What are the types of refrigeration that exist ?

Depending on the type of foodstuffs transported, you will need to choose between chilled and frozen. Chilling means keeping fresh foodstuffs at between +2°C and +4°C. Frozen means keeping foodstuffs at -20°C. If these temperatures are respected, the cold chain will not be broken during transport and storage.

Which source to choose ?

There are two sorts of cold source, known as active cooling and passive cooling.  Active cooling is not autonomous, but operates thanks to a constant external energy source (battery, connection to the mains power). On the other hand, passive cooling is autonomous. It works without any external power source. Nonetheless, passive cooling still requires preparation or supplies upstream. There are different solutions available for passive cooling: eutectic plates, cold accumulators, ice pack, gel packs, dry in solid form or “snow”, etc.

How do eutectic plates keep foodstuffs cold ?

eutectic plate keeps foodstuffs cool thanks to two different parameters: the composition of the eutectic solution and the change of phase in the eutectic plate (frozen => liquid).

For plates to diffuse the energy needed to keep foodstuffs cool, you need to prepare your them 24 hours before use in a chamber whose temperature is 5°C lower than the melting temperature of the plates. The eutectic plate is ready for use once the liquid inside it is completely “set”, i.e. frozen.

2. Transporting foodstuffs

Why do I need an insulated container ?

An insulated container allows you to limit the heat transfer between the outside and the inside of the container. Thanks to its composition, it is able to keep the temperature inside stable whatever the external conditions (extreme heat, hostile environment, etc.). In addition, an insulated container is designed to facilitate the natural circulation of the cold, with convection channels and spaces.

What kind of insulated container for what use ?

Depending on your type of business and the logistics arrangements, certain models are more likely to suit your cold logistics needs.  For example, food distribution firms will prefer the ROLL format, a trolley where the goods are placed on shelves, which allows quick access to packaged foods. On the other hand, the industrial sector will probably be more likely to choose the BAC chest format, to store and transport dry ice. Here the products are transported LOOSE. Finally, the size and volume of your equipment will be closely linked to the type and size of your vehicle (height, width, length) and the types of packaging used (cardboard boxes, crates).

What does it mean to break the cold chain ?

“Breaking the cold chain is the result of temperatures rising to forbidden levels”: extract from an article entitled La chaîne du froid : adoptez les bons réflexes ! (The cold chain, get into good habits!) published by the DGCCCRF, the French consumer protection directorate.

Breaking the cold chain consists of an interruption in the maintaining of temperature-sensitive goods within the right temperature range. The cold chain is broken when the core temperature of the foodstuff is no longer at the regulatory temperature.. Below we provide a summary of the required temperatures for different types of fresh and frozen foodstuffs.

Category of foodstuffsStorage temperature
Cooked fish, crustaceans and molluscs, cooked meat, products that are thawing, fresh products that have been opened and started, home-cooked foods, etc.Between 0°C and +4°C
Raw meat, uncooked fish, deli meats, cream cakes, dairy products made with raw milk, cut cheeses etc.+4°C maximum
Ready-to-use fruit and vegetables+4°C
Fresh dairy produce, eggs, milk puddings, butter and fats, etc.Between +6°C and +8°C
All frozen foods-12°C
All deep-frozen foods, ice cream and sorbet-18°C

The authorities that check the maintaining of the cold chain in France are: the veterinary services, the Departmental Directorate for the Protection of the Population (DDPP) and sworn agents. A temperature reading that shows that the cold chain has been broken will lead to immediate seizure of the goods checked and can lead to prosecution and a fine.

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