During Gulfood 2012, in Dubai from February 19 to 22, I had the opportunity of moderating a symposium track, titled ‘The role of cold chain management in food safety’. The Symposium, organised by Dubai Municipality, as part of the Dubai International Food Safety Conference (DIFSC), and conducted by Climate Control Middle East, was an occasion for a stirring presentation by Anil Nair of Kraft Foods.

The presentation was a rare interaction between an end-user and the refrigeration industry. Rare in its transparent nature and a blunt stating of facts, that is.

Nair narrated an episode involving Philadelphia Cheese, which is part of Kraft Foods (before I proceed any further, please note, this is not a subliminal attempt at promoting either the brand or the company; their mention is to merely be specific in the description). Nair described how a distributor had repeatedly complained that consignment after consignment of the cheese to a particular retail outlet in the GCC was showing up spoilt and that he was being forced to take back the brand from the retailer. Suspecting something was amiss, Nair asked to inspect the retailer’s storage facility, which was duly turned down.

Keen to get to the bottom of the matter, Nair went undercover – he travelled in a transport refrigeration truck to the facility as a helper. His covert operation revealed “temperature abuse” at the retail side of things. To quote one specific instance, the transport refrigeration truck containing the cheese was opened for inspection in high-ambient conditions, causing hot air to enter the truck. There was little urgency shown in closing the door, which meant prolonged exposure of the cheese to the hot outside air.

Subsequent to his investigation, backed by photographic evidence, Nair briefed the distributor, who, in turn, informed the retailer. The response from the retailer was positive and earnest, and the situation was rectified.

While the story serves to highlight an enlightened end-user, who instead of taking umbrage to interference from a food processing company, chose to address the issue, it also brings home the need for vigilance in ensuring all links of the cold chain are strong, without exception.

- B Surendar