KEEPING perishable items at just the right temperature is vital to those in the food and beverage industry who want to deliver the best quality product to their customers. Mobile refrigerated containers, known as reefers, have provided unique solutions to businesses throughout South Africa producing or delivering anything from wine and cured meats to healthy foods and ice-creams.
Reefer containers keep fresh produce, perishable items and beverages cold or frozen. These 20ft (6m) and 40ft (12m) containers are 2.4m wide and run on three phase (380 – 460v) power and can keep the contents at a consistent temperature ranging between -25°C and +25°C. Temperature can be adjusted and controlled to within 0.3°C of required set point.
Annually from the middle of January to the end of February, Pearl Mountain Wines, on the Northern slopes of the Paarl Mountain, need to harvest between 250 and 500 tons of grapes and this is when reefers play a vital role.
According to Dave Retief, head of agriculture at Pearl Mountain, timing when picking is essential to the quality of the grape, and this is when the use of refrigerated containers comes into play.
“I would rather pick the grape at the perfect time and store it in a reefer than leave it to hang until it can be processed. For wine production it is vital to get the acid-sugar balance just right, as two or three days longer on the vine can make a big difference to the chemical composition of the grape,’’ said Retief.
In the reefers, the grapes are stored in crates, on pallets at 2 degrees Celsius. “If the day is particularly hot, I often use the reefer to cool the grapes down before transporting.
“With the harvest season being only six weeks, I rent the reefers from Almar Container Group for as long as I need them. They also take responsibility for the maintenance or any technical issues, which eases the stress during our busiest time of the year,’’ Retief said.
For Sticks ‘n Licks, a KwaZulu-Natal based business specialising in the warehousing and distribution of ice-cream, they are placing reefers at their customers premises to save on carbon emissions, manpower and risk. Owner and founder Nischal Jairajh said they also do this to assist their larger retail stores to isolate the Ola Ice Cream products, during peak demands, at optimum storage temperatures, to maintain the products at the highest quality levels.
“It makes sense for us to have reefers on the premises of our big retail customers, especially during the hotter months. We fill up the reefer and our product is readily available, at the right temperature, to these chain stores. Our reefers are on rental so if demand increases or decreases we can amend our order accordingly,’’ Jairajh said.
While reefers are used by Sticks ‘n Licks to manage the seasonal increase in ice-cream demand, Angus McIntosh, aka Farmer Angus, who is a grass fed, pasture-reared beef producer in the Western Cape, uses them differently.
Situated on 126 hectares of irrigated pasture at Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch, his butchery is the only one in the country that does not add nitrates, nitrites and gluten to the meat.
“We have been using reefers since mid-2018 as the maturation chambers for our charcuterie products. Charcuterie is cured meat which involves two stages in the producing – the first is fermentation and spicing, and the second maturation.
“A reefer is the ideal facility where the temperature and humidity can be controlled for maturation. We run the temperature at 12 degrees Celsius and the humidity at 80%. If you cannot control temperature and humidity you will never be able to make charcuterie,” said McIntosh.
FitChef, a business which delivers ‘clean food’ meals to offices and homes with the aim of helping customers to achieve their health goals, have decided to go the reefer route for their cold storage.
“Using rented reefers for our cold storage makes sense for a number of reasons,’’ says FitChef’s Craig Kaminsky. “We rent our property in Gauteng so to invest in cold storage which is expensive and permanent does not make sense. Reefers are stackable, movable and because they are on rent we can increase or decrease our numbers depending on our stock requirements. The responsibility of repairs and maintenance falls with Almar which frees us up to focus on our core business of making people healthier.”
According to Dave Williams from Almar, the diversity in the uses for reefers seem to be increasing as businesses, especially in the food and beverage sector, are realising their full potential. This is not only from a temperature control point of view but because they offer the flexibility and cost efficiency of leasing, are stackable and can be moved around onsite or moved to another premises, if and when necessary. This, in turn, makes them a great alternative to permanent cold storage.’’