Food on the go!

The world, often labeled a global village, seems to be drawing closer and closer each day. Years ago, food was always produced, distributed, and consumed locally, but times have changed. With the growing population, comes the need for transporting food and to densely populated areas and to areas where food is not produced or is insufficiently produced. The world’s population is estimated to reach approximately 9 billion by 2050, which would double the demand for food. The issue of food security is becoming increasingly important. With burgeoning demands, the food industry may well be considered as one of the biggest industries on this planet.

Apart from this primary concern, our constant quest for novelty and change also poses a problem, which also applies to food preferences. With people across the world becoming increasingly mobile, Each day, huge quantities of food and food ingredients are transported from the manufacturer to consumers in different parts of the world. It is not unusual anymore to pick up imported foods from the neighboring supermarket in one’s locality and even at the click of a finger! E-commerce gives people faster access to more food choices and people are experimenting with food like never before. Advances in food processing have also duly supported these continued and rising gourmet demands. This is reflected by the fact that the food processing technologies market is seen growing steadily over the years (see Markets and Markets report on seafood and egg processing). The result is a robust, highly dynamic, and rapidly growing food trade.

The world population and its growing demand for food, the globalization of food trade, advances in technology, changing patterns in trading such as online sales, changing climatic and seasonal patterns, and other factors are, therefore, the significant contributors accelerating food trade.

Since most foods are perishable with a limited shelf life, they are prone to bacterial or fungal contamination. In addition to this, food trade rules call for the safety of food under all conditions during transport.  Food needs to be stored and transported without compromising on its quality and safety. This is indeed a challenging task which involves the building up of a temperature-controlled supply chain or cold chain system with efficient, stringent operational controls to ensure that the food that reaches the consumer is safe and fit for consumption. This has resulted in great advancements in food preservation and transportation.

Let’s take a brief look at the latest trends in food transportation and its supporting industries.


These days, the consumer is highly aware and conscious and demands information. Foodborne illnesses and outbreaks have heightened everyone’s interest and awareness in the safety and quality of foods. Quality of the food has to be maintained right from the beginning of the manufacturing process till it reaches the consumer.

About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) fall ill; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to data recorded from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013. This poses a significant public health burden and it can definitely be prevented.(1) In response, the laws are becoming more stringent. The food industry widely uses Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans for identifying the critical control points in manufacturing to ensure safety and quality. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced that HACCP plan will be referred to as the Hazard Analysis Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) Food Safety Plan, which is a move towards an all-inclusive food safety plan (2) These preventive control tools are also applicable to the storage and transport of food across the supply chain. New  FDA rules mandated by the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are being released for the transportation of food. The key elements which are most likely to be important during the rule-making process for the Sanitary Food Transportation Act include temperature monitoring and control, cross contamination, sanitation, training, validation, food safety plan, and cGM. Every aspect of the food supply chain, for both ambient and frozen food, will be a part of this FDA/FSMA regulation for sanitation, traceability, and temperature monitoring. Food transportation will also be a big focus of FDA/FSMA. The FDA has tightened the system with accountability at every stage of the multi-step complex process. Apart from this, there are several other initiatives, such as the Global Food Safety Initiative—an industry-driven global collaborative platform, which have been started to advance food safety (3).

Food service distributors have been primarily regulated by current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) contained in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations and a specific provision was made for warehousing and distribution: “Storage and transportation of finished food shall be under conditions that will protect food against physical, chemical, and microbial contamination, as well as against deterioration of the food and the container”. Maintenance of the cold chain is an essential part of ensuring not only compliance with GMP under 21 C.F.R. § 110.93, but product quality and cost containment as well. It prevents food from spoilage and wastage, thus, saving money.

Components of the Supply Chain

A food supply chain usually comprises the manufacturer; a distributor with warehousing facilities; and a fleet of refrigerated trucks, vans, cars, barges, and cargos in planes and ships. The warehouse typically has three temperature zones—ambient, cooler, and frozen; the temperature is monitored continuously in areas where frozen or chilled foods are stored. These are relatively stable foods, being frozen. On the other hand, there is the rising trend of consuming fresh vegetables and fruits – for which the foods require storage temperatures warmer than refrigerated, yet cooler than ambient. This has created the need for a very wide range of temperature requirements in a warehouse. Cold chain warehousing has consistently been on the growing curve for some time now, along these new trends. The total capacity of refrigerated warehouses was estimated at 552 million cubic meters worldwide in 2014, an increase of 92 million cubic meters (20%) over 2012 (4).

At the heart of the food distribution system, lies cold chain management. Food manufactured at the factory site has to be packed into refrigerated vehicles and transported to the distributor as the in-bound shipment, who has to store it at appropriate temperatures at various locations in the warehouse so that it is easily retrievable.  From a food safety and quality assurance perspective, the most significant challenge to the integrity of the food supply is from temperature fluctuations during transportation. Refrigeration of food is one of the most commonly used methods to render it   microbiologically safe so that it will not readily support the proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms within the product matrix. Food processing companies, producing refrigerated and frozen foods, invest heavily in refrigeration equipment, temperature-control devices, and monitoring equipment to preserve their products. However, once the products leave the manufacturing facility, there is always a possibility that they are exposed to temperature abuse in the transportation system, making monitoring a mandatory activity. Outbound shipment involves sending ordered items from the warehouse to customers or buyers through a well-controlled shipment and transportation process. Market research firm Markets and Markets has estimated the market size for the refrigerated vehicle market and has projected it to reach USD 14.1 billion by 2020, at a CAGR of 6.27% during the, forecast period. The market size, in terms of volume for refrigerated transport, is projected to grow at a CAGR of 2.53% to reach 3.01 billion tons by Markets and Markets (5).

The distributor via temperature-controlled logistics solutions for road, rail, and ocean transport, distributes food to retailers, malls, food shops, and restaurants and from there, it finally reaches the consumers. A multi-step, long journey is required to send food crossing many borders, many continents, and across the globe! It involves refrigerated docks, multiple refrigeration zones within distribution centers, and multi-temperature super-insulated trailers. Furthermore, food of all kinds needs to be transported – chilled and frozen foods, food ingredients, processed and unprocessed foods, and more. In particular, the growing market for fresh, organic, antibiotic-free, non-GMO, and gluten-free foods demands a more versatile cold chain.  The number of products delivered to a customer can be in the hundreds and cross contamination needs to be prevented.  The food has to retain its temperature throughout the multi-stop delivery process, even in the hot summer requiring time and temperature recorders during shipment.

Several foodborne incidences have been traced to issues in transportation, thus, emphasizing its importance. Highlighting the growing importance of food safety testing, the market is growing at a CAGR of 7.4% from 2015 and is projected by Markets and Markets to reach a value of USD 16.1 billion by 2020 (6). Apart from concerns on food safety, food defense is another equally important aspect which means protecting food from intentional contamination. Past incidences of intentional tampering and sabotage have led to tamper proof packaging to protect food from being used as a means of perpetuating mass destruction.

As a result of the increasing stringency, traceability along the supply chain has always been a major concern and more so when it comes to adulterated or contaminated foods associated with outbreaks. A critical aspect of transportation is to be able to accurately track and trace food and refrigerated products. Monitoring controls employed during transportation are what interests the regulators. Several types of innovative tracking and tracing products are available in the market from bar coding to RFID products and GPS systems and different software accurately controlling and enabling visibility along the supply chain and greater transparency. The different technologies enable retailers to improve the efficiency of receiving processes, increase inventory accuracy, enable real-time visibility, and monitor shrinkage more closely throughout their operations. Inside the warehouse for determining the exact locations of the products, barcode scanners are being used worldwide. Several new innovations in these scanners are improving the exact tracking of the thousands of goods stored in warehouses, enhancing the picking efficiencies, and providing the pickers with ease of operations through better ergonomics. The latest entries into the market are mobile devices (7).

Protective Packaging

With the increasing demand for efficient food transport, comes the need for appropriate packaging of foods. Unless food is packaged correctly it cannot be transported properly. The packaging world needs to keep up with the fast changing demands of the consumers. The packaging material not only has the crucial role of protecting and preserving the food, it also attracts the consumer and stimulates the need to buy, along with instructing and educating the buyer. Markets and Markets has projected the global fresh food packaging market to reach USD 95.91 billion by 2020, at a CAGR of 3.38% from 2015 to 2020 (8).

Changing packaging needs are seen more evidently in case of beverages packaging. Beverage cans or bottles should be easy to hold and carry along for the consumers who are always. It should also have visual appeal. In 2015, the top  food and beverage packaging trends, as described by Suley Muratoglu, included options that are “compact and lightweight, digitally savvy, earth-friendly, simplified, and sport a personality!” (9). Currently, packaging seems to have caught on the “selfie” movement, as described by Chris Cornyn (10) and show innovative developments in packing material such as self-opening, self-closing, self-sealing, self-cleaning, self-dosing, self-regulating, self-heating, and so on. Biodegradable packaging material, which is a hybrid material made from plastic and paper, is another important trend. The material should allow food to be preserved longer and should allow itself to be independently recycled. As environment related issues gather strength, reducing carbon footprints is on the minds of every manufacturer and hence, bio-based plastics are fast evolving with new features (11).

The demand for products such as convenience foods, seafood, poultry, meat products, and dairy products is constantly rising. This rise in demand has encouraged the manufacturers and retailers to use different methods to extend the shelf-life of these products to cater to this rising demand without hampering their production rate and product presentation. The modified atmosphere packaging market is projected to reach USD 13.78 Billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 4.3% during the forecast period from 2015 to 2020 (12). These processes are a prerequisite to transportation of food. Several other types of packaging options are available depending on the need (13-15).

Trends in Food Transportation

Environmental concerns have prompted the search for alternative fuels in refrigerated vehicles. As much as 8-10 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions are due to the refrigeration and air conditioning sector. Therefore, new fuels such as cryogenic liquid nitrogen and liquid air are being researched as alternatives (10). The business also requires energy intensive refrigerated warehouses that operate 24/7; energy conservation and cost containment are big concerns. Reducing the carbon footprint in this industry is the need of the hour. Food miles are defined as the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food, including the impact on global warming (16).

What’s interesting to note is that the Government has provided support to 12 states in the U.S. for supporting and strengthening local transportation and distribution of fresh produce and healthy food to communities in need (17).

These trends are helping the industry shift from responding to food safety events to proactively preventing them. The industry is also embracing new developments. After all, it’s all about food protection and our safety!

Related links:

2. “How Food Companies Can Modify Their Existing HACCP Plans into an All-Encompassing Food Safety Plan”; By Amanda M. Yotty, M.Sc., John A. Marcy, Ph.D., Fred W. Pohlman, Ph.D., and Leslie D. Edgar, Ph.D.:
5. Refrigerated transport market:
6. Food safety testing market:
7. (
8. Fresh food Packaging market:
9. “5 critical packaging trends for 2015” By Suley Muratoglu in Food Packaging on January 06, 2015
10. “Latest Food Packaging trends” by Jeremy Gerard, Food Engineering Magazine, July 2014:
11. “Trends in food packaging” by Sophia Griffiths, 24/08/2015;
12. Modified atmosphere packaging:
13. Metal packaging market:
14. Aseptic packaging market:
15. Insulated packaging market:
16. Soundaram Ramanathan, Sanjeev Kumar Kanchan; Dec 2014; Greening Food Transport:
17. (


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