Having a well-designed cold store equipped with the most suitable handling and storage equipment is all very well but its efficacy can be compromised if handling procedures are lackadaisical, including neglect of the all-important necessity for good temperature monitoring throughout the facility and in the transport links.
Disturbing stories have emerged recently where too much cluttered storage goods awaiting put away can lead to temperature-sensitive food being stored in ambient areas for too long before entering the chilled and frozen areas, thus risking consumers’ health and a poor corporate reputation. It may seem obvious that rigorous temperature control throughout is essential but the reality is that sloppy, inadequate management can neglect this, causing huge losses through meltdowns or high food wastage owing to poor air circulation and resultant wide variation in spatial distribution of temperatures and humidity.
Fully automated cold stores excepted, the cold store is critically dependent on the reliability of its forklifts and operators. Subject to sub-zero temperatures, the trucks have many tough conditions to handle. These include reduced truck battery capacity and disturbance to truck electronics, thicker, more viscous oil and more brittle metal, especially at the welding joints. The battery problem can be reduced by switching to lithium-ion batteries which tolerate cold temperatures much better than lead-acid batteries.
In any event, the trucks chosen must be fully adapted to sub-zero work. When not in use trucks should be parked outside the cold room in ambient temperature, but when in use it is better to keep the truck inside the cold store and when changing batteries the battery should be brought to the truck. If frequently having to drive in and out of the cold store then stays inside should be as short as possible and the stays outside as long as possible so that the truck’s temperature always stays above 0 deg C. If that is not feasible, reverse the operation so that the truck temperature never goes above 0 deg C.
Heated cabs are strongly recommended not only for their drivers’ comfort, health and efficiency but also to avoid the recommended requirement to give drivers a 15-minute break in every hour in ambient temperatures. Wearing more and thicker clothes and gloves makes truck operation more difficult because drivers are less sensitive to driving and lifting feedback.
Doors and lighting play important roles in containing the highest operating cost in any cold store – energy, which can be up to 25% of total running costs.
Specially designed high speed doors are a popular choice, working in conjunction with a sliding freezer door, but single, insulated door solutions combining high speed with almost hermetic sealing are now available from the leading door manufacturers. An alternative is the air curtain which keeps the chilled air in and the warm air out with no need for frequent, fast opening and closing doors. An effective seal between the two temperature zones means any temperature variation is limited to 1 deg C, helping to reduce any hot spots near entrances to prevent product spoilage.
LED lighting should be considered in cold stores because they generate less heat than other lighting options and so less cooling is needed. Their much greater longevity means far less maintenance and they are eminently suitable for harnessing smart sensors to save even more money.