THAT Filipinos love to eat is an understatement. And they like the food they cook that are fresh, clean and wholesome. And if the foods are processed or preserved, they should have been handled properly -- from the farm to the market.

"People do not want to eat food that will make them sick," pointed out Daniel Gudahl in a training workshop convened by the Philippine Cold Chain Project (PCCP) in Butuan City recently.

But most of the agricultural products sold in the public markets and super markets are perishable. "Fish, meat, fruits and vegetables all start to decay after they have been harvested," explained Gudahl, who is the chief of party of Winrock International.

The decay process can be stopped if not slowed down by proper food handling and preservation. “Keeping food fresh involves controlling the environment where the food is kept,” Gudahl said.

Among those that affect food preservation include atmosphere, humidity, and temperature. “Keeping food cool, cold or frozen is one way to keep food fresh,” he said. “When food is harvested, freshness can be preserved by immediately chilling the produce. This can be done by using refrigeration, freezers, hydrocooling (cold water), and evaporation.”

One technique to help assure freshness of the agricultural products is harvesting them at the proper time. “Fruits like banana or apples give off ethylene gas when in storage. Ethylene gas hastens the ripening process. Large food cold stores use ‘controlled atmosphere’ to put fruit to sleep and to wake it up.”

Ethylene gas can be “scrubbed” from the atmosphere in a cold store, or it can be used in a controlled atmosphere environment to hasten ripening. “Modern cold storage facilities use computers to control temperature, humidity and atmosphere in the cold store,” Gudahl said.

Gudahl shares the following tips on what to do to make the products fresh and clean:

* Fruits and vegetables are mostly water. Loosing water from fruits and vegetables not only makes the produce appear not to be fresh but also decreases weight and value of the produce;

* Proper handling of produce starts in the field or boat as produce, fish, and meat should be kept cool or chilled when harvested;

* “Field heat” should be removed before moving produce to cold storage; and

* Constant temperature should be maintained to avoid problems associated with temperature abuse.

Gudahl bats for cold chain since it is “all around us.” Actually, cold chain is “a system of preserving perishable agricultural products using a temperature controlled supply chain thereby decreasing agricultural losses.”

In the Philippines, among the cold chain facilities used include refrigerators, box trucks, reefer containers, and walk in freezers and cold storage facilities in supermarkets.

Once Filipinos farmers and consumers understand the cold chain, they will be able to see it in action all around them. “Any fast food chain like McDonalds, Jolibee, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or any large hotel or restaurant has strict cold storage procedures and regulations,” he said.

By understanding the importance of cold chain, farmers can penetrate the international market for their products. “Contamination, minimum residue levels, proper treatment for insects, proper grading and appearance, packaging and traceability are all issues that also need to be addressed especially for export crops,” he said.

Gudahl believed cold stores could help Filipino farmers and suppliers get better prices and preserve food when harvest is abundant.

That’s why Winrock International launched recently the PCCP in Caraga Region. The four-year project is designed to improve production and marketing of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish in the region.

Winrock International considers the Caraga Region and its five provinces as “a future breadbasket for the Philippines, specifically because of their ability to supply urban centers like Manila or Cebu.”

Among the products which can benefit from a cold chain include horticulture crops (mango, banana, and vegetables), pork meat, poultry products (chicken and eggs), and fisheries.

“Building effective cold chains make it easier to produce safer food, and safer food means an increase in income for farmers and improved nutrition for families,” the PCCP said in a statement.

“Higher-quality, higher-value agricultural products will be able to compete in new markets as businesses and consumers demand products meeting international-quality standards. Educating producers about clean, well-preserved food, moreover, means families will not be debilitated by preventable illness.”