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The Importance of Temperature Control While Food is in Transit

When it comes to food transportation, maintaining the right temperature is a major concern. A recent report suggests that contaminated food results in about 5.4 million cases of gastroenteritis in Australia annually, leading to the dumping of $5.2 billion of food each year. This has led to a rise in quality refrigerated transport companies whose primary role is to transport your food safely.

Not maintaining the right temperature while food is in transit can cause serious health issues among consumers. Let’s take a look at some common problems and health hazards.

The most common and obvious issue that arises if your food is transported without maintaining proper temperature is a bacterial infestation. This leads to food poisoning and spoilage.

Food Poisoning

The common effect of eating bacteria infested food is food poisoning. The symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea, feeling weak, fevers, and headaches. Some common bacteria which cause food poisoning are -

  • Staphylococcus

Staphylococcus grows on your food and multiplies, producing a toxin which makes you ill. The typical time frame for the symptoms to show is 1 to 8 hours.

  • Salmonella

Salmonella takes time to yield effect. The average development period is 48 hours, after which effects last from 3 to 21 days. It causes nausea, diarrhoea, fever, stomach cramps and headaches. Children, elderly and other individuals with weaker constitution need to be particularly careful as salmonella can be the cause of death if not properly treated.

  • Clostridium

Symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach pains, vomiting and nausea show up 12 hours after food intake. Among these, Clostridium bacteria causes botulism. This is a severe food poisoning disease which if not properly treated can lead to death within 3-7 days.

  • Campylobacter

The usual symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and severe abdominal pain which lasts for 2-5 days.

Food Spoilage

If temperatures are not maintained while in transport, then food will eventually spoil due to bacteria. Uncharacteristic odour, change in colour and being sticky or slimy are indications that bacteria has affected the food. Eating this contaminated food will result in food-borne diseases. These microorganisms spoiling your food are known as pathogenic microorganisms.

Eating affected food will result in diarrhoea. Children, elderly people and pregnant women are the most vulnerable, and it might even be life-threatening for them.

Classification of Bacteria Based on Temperature

Let’s have a look at what type of bacteria can affect food in transport depending on the temperature of the cargo.

  • Psychrophilic

Psychrophilic bacteria grow within the temperature range of 32-77 °F while the optimum temperature for these microorganisms is 68-77 °F.

  • Mesophilic

Mesophilic bacteria grow within the temperature range of 68-113 °F.

  • Thermophilic

Thermophilic bacteria grow within the temperature range of 113-158 °F, and their optimum temperature is 122-131 °F.

When in the ideal condition, a single bacterium divides to become two on every 20 minutes. Thus in 8 hours, one bacterial cell will increase to 16 million cells.

Effects of Poor Temperature Control on Different Foods 

Not maintaining proper temperatures while your food is in transit results in spoilage and bacteria formation. Hazardous effects are discussed below - 

1.Meat and poultry products

    For meat and poultry products the danger zone is 40 °F to 140 °F. Within this range, bacteria multiply almost to double their number within 20 minutes. Storing at 0 °F will slow down the movement of the molecules making the bacteria enter a dormant stage. If you are not careful about maintaining this low temperature, then pathogens like S. aureus, L. monocytogenes, Y. enterocolitica, enterohemorrhagic E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella spp and C. botulinum will form in the food. That is why while transporting meat or poultry, one must use chilled transport services to prevent bacterial formation.

    2.Fish and seafood products

    Microbial bacterial infestation in fish and seafood increases at any temperature greater than 0 °C. Pathogens like Vibrio vulnificus, Salmonella spp, Vibrio parahaemoluticus, Shigella spp, Vibrio cholera, and C. botulinum are formed in fish-based food. Among these, C. botulinum’s growth and toxicity can be especially severe. While transporting, if the temperature is kept at 0 °C, the growth rate of bacteria is reduced.

    3.Fruits and vegetables

    Once picked from the plant, fruits and vegetables begin to deteriorate. The water present within the fruits and vegetables starts to evaporate resulting in the development of pathogenic fungi. Pathogens like C. botulinum, Salmonella spp., B. cereus, E. coli O157: H7, Y. enterocolitica, L. monocytogenes and Shigella spp. are common in vegetables if they are not stored at a cold temperature.

    4.Egg and egg products

    Salmonella is the most common pathogen that can be found in eggs and egg products. At normal temperatures, the integrity of the shell is compromised over time, and the pathogen gets access to the yolk. If the temperature is more than 7 °C, another microbial bacteria named L. monocytogenes contributes to the spoilage of egg products.

    5.Milk and milk products

    Bacterial growth in milk is minimised if the temperature is kept below 45 °F, but in order to maintain the best quality, one should keep the temperature below 40 °F. From storage to transportation it to your clients, the temperature must be maintained strictly. Otherwise, pathogens like Salmonella spp., S. aureus, C. jejuni, B. cereus, L. monocytogenes, enterohemorrhagic E.coli and C. botulinum can grow. Milk products like cheese form C. botulinum become toxic if not transported via a properly refrigerated cargo.


    Food safety is something that no one should take lightly. Basic safety standards dictate that the temperature must be 5 °C or lower for transporting food items. Always use refrigerated transport services to ensure your food remains bacteria free and fresh.

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