In conversation with Mr. Ricardo Badía Melis, PhD Expert and Consultant in Food Waste, Food Security and Cold Chain

“The term cold chain is no longer just the processes where we are applying cold temperature, it is any process or step from the supply chain where the food shelf life will be affected by not being under optimum temperature conditions”

Can you talk us through the services you provide – to assist the demand of food security and cold chain projects and so on?

As a consultant I work in freshness management solutions across the globe, I have had the opportunity to develop my work in countries such as the USA, China, Chile, Ireland and Spain. The main focus of my work is in post-harvest handling management, cold chain and supply chain solutions for fresh produce and pharma industry.

As a seasoned fresh food supply chain consultant, I provide professional, qualified insights and advice for growers, shippers, 3PLs and retailers to help them improve supply chain operations and delivered freshness, while improving operational efficiencies and reducing waste and costs.

All of my work follows a determined protocol which starts by verifying what measurements they are taking and how accurate and representative are from their processes. Also implement some measurements at some stages in case they are not measuring since you cannot improve any operation unless you measure it.

The main steps to be evaluated are:

  • Harvest handling and packing
  • Transportation to precooling
  • Precooling
  • Handling at storage and loading –  including refrigeration settings and produce processing
  • Transportation to destination
  • Downloading handling at destination
  • Handling at destination – including any processing refrigeration settings
Can you tell us about some of your clients and the work you do for them?

In the case of the growers they usually need some help on analyzing and digitalizing their operations, since traditionally there is no good quality or digitalized data after the produce is harvested. There are many inefficiencies in the supply chain that the grower takes as losses, inefficiencies that with the studies I perform can be identified and actions can be taken to minimize the impact. One example would be a fresh produce grower having issues with the losses because some mechanical damage that ended up into premature deterioration of the product, the rough handling was detected and analyzed and the causes were identified so they could take action and do some changes into their daily operations to minimize that impact. It is also critical the assessment of their entire supply chain in terms of time and temperature including the cold chain, most of the fruits and vegetables are due to be harvested during the hottest months of the year and the there is a big chance that the produce can be at risk if there is no good reaction time when this produce is exposed for long time under high temperatures, that’s why the studies I do for them are necessary, to reduce these unwanted situations.

Also the shippers and 3PLs, that can either sometimes affect dramatically the shelf life of the produce and detract value from the good job the growers have made or they can perform an outstanding transportation and handling and even save some of the spoilage the grower has done with inefficient operations. In this case the way of helping them is to assess how well they are maintaining the cold chain with strategically distributed sensors in the freight as well as extracting the metrics for the loading and unloading they are performing.

Other big part of the cake are the retailers, they have to deal with the whatever remaining shelf life the produce has. I help them analyzing that shelf life variability they are receiving and what are the reasons why some produce is not lasting enough to be sold and end up into store waste.

The optimum way of analyzing the food waste and cold chain is indeed vertically, because just studying the operations and  shelf life of the produce in one stage of the chain would be just like telling one chapter of a book and having to guess what’s the rest of the story. Therefore, despite there are differentiated clients, at the end all of them should be connected for improving the freshness management.

What’s been your biggest project to date?

I have been working in conjunction with Zest Labs for almost the last 3 years, bringing insights vertically on supply chains for multiple products. Zest Labs has a powerful software capable of integrate all kind of data, from supply chain processing times from harvest to produce quality. I am in charge of translating the produce quality into data and collect it on to the software. The diversity of the produce present a challenge since this freshness management solution has to be scalable. We have been working on developing ad hoc shelf life analysis procedures for every product that at the end will be standardized and scalable.

What about implementing innovative digitization systems on fresh produce supply chain?

That is indeed the future and partially the present. In an era where the digitalization is a must, the agriculture and the food industry must keep up with the trend, because we, humans are growing faster and bigger as a society, and digitalization is necessary to keep growing in a sustainable way. My work is to digitalize the freshness of the produce, someone said once you cannot manage what you don’t measure, and that is why measuring the processes on the fresh supply chain is so important. Like I said in the previous point, the real challenge is to extract the most important information from the fresh fruit and vegetables, and add that to a software. In that software the data must prove to be useful when combined with the rest of data input, I do a careful analysis of what the extracted data means and expose the reasons why the quality of that product is what it is at that particular stage of the supply chain . The growers, shippers and retailers must access that data and understand they areas of improvement.

Do you publish any report or case-studies on Food Waste, Food Security and Cold Chain for the industry users?

All my work scientific and within the food industry has always focused on solving real problems that the industry user have. One of the most recent project with published results, and very interesting was a case study of the freshness quality in terms of shelf life from produce directly purchased on groceries, I participated in this study with Zest Labs, where we found that there is a huge variability in shelf life on the same produce across all the stores and even within the same store.

In this blog post, REDUCING FOOD WASTAGE MUST START WITH EDUCATION , I talk about how we should start from the root of food waste, what we have more at hand to start reducing food waste, the education.

I have given a talk about cold chain and why it is necessary for reducing the food waste and I will give another talk this same Friday here in Spain in a Ted talk space about food waste.

Also recently I have published a review of the trends in the cold chain industry, and I have participated on an article about the challenges and tech solutions on the global  food security.

Could you please share your views on Cold Chain Sector for our magazine readers?

I believe there is a diffuse gap in the food supply chain in terms of technology, this gap goes from pre harvest to the last mile distribution. There are companies nowadays using tech for measuring crop yield, fertilizer needs, water use, using drones for controlling plagues, and there is being a massive tech deployment in the war for last mile domination, food delivered to home. But there is a big room for supply chain improvement, including cold chain. There is no enough technology implemented or at least it is no well implemented in many cases. The term cold chain is no longer just the processes where we are applying cold temperature, it is any process or step from the supply chain where the food shelf life will be affected by not being under optimum temperature conditions, not being processed in the adequate time, or not being handled adequately.

First we have to standardize the data taking processes and then centralizing all the data from all the processes in a single platform, connecting the pre-harvest information, with the post-harvest data, logistics,  handling quality data, produce freshness, data from operation processes. This platform will be used vertically in the whole supply chain showing transparency and usability to all the stakeholders, it will use IoT and blockchain, reducing to the minimum the non-legit recalls, food losses, unwanted situations where the food ends up wasted.

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