Each year, the Port of Rotterdam handles millions of tonnes of cargo, including fruit. As with other perishables, assessing the cause and extent of damage to fruit requires specialist knowledge of each and every type and variety of produce. And surveying damage is often complicated by the lapse of time between stripping refrigerated containers and the call to the surveyor.
Ideally, a joint assessment by surveyors representing the parties involved should take place immediately upon unloading the containers. This would avoid a lot of debate and speculation. Together, you could come to a well-founded conclusion. The reality is that surveyors are called in a day after stripping the container.
Why’s that a problem? Two important questions when assessing damage to fruit are:
- Have the pallets and crates been stowed correctly, allowing proper air circulation throughout the cargo?
- What was the setpoint temperature and the actual temperature of the cargo?
As you can imagine, establishing these two vital clues to the cause of damage is virtually impossible, 24 hours after stripping the container. And often even the container has already gone, so we cannot inspect the container, its baffle plate, drains, air exchange etc. either.
When containers cannot be inspected physically, we can still infer a lot from the reefer data logs. Interpretation of these logs requires specialist knowhow, as the logs produce a wealth of data.
Still, some types of damage are relatively clear cut. Deviations from the setpoint temperature, for instance, may result in excessive ripening, or chilling damage.
Controlled atmosphere shipments require more data. The data of the air exchange settings are vital. If not set correctly, O2 and CO2 levels can cause a host of issues, ranging from suffocation and problems with ripening to mould growth.
Physical damage to the container may also harm the consignment. The air tightness may have been compromised, affecting the controlled atmosphere. And damage to the exterior may cause leakage.
Delay in transit
Even if the reefer settings had been correct, fruit may not reach its destination unscathed. Delay in transit could result in the shelf life being exceeded, resulting in advanced ageing, excessive decay and mould, but also early ripening. Mangoes, for instance, should not arrive ‘ready-to-eat’. But even in the case of delays, the cause may be found in a combination of factors, including pre-shipment handling and storage conditions, stowage inside the container and the temperature while in transit.
Pre-shipment condition & causal investigation
On the receiving end a surveyor can still find vital clues. For instance, a consignment showing different orchard, varieties and packing dates on the labels raises multiple questions. All factors need to be considered.
If the fruit had been packed weeks before the shipment, the shelf life may well be exceeded as a result. And if the consignment contains fruit from multiple orchards, yet only the fruit from one orchard is seriously damaged, the origin may again lie in the pre-shipment phase. After all, the other fruit was shipped under the same conditions. Shipping different varieties of for instance avocadoes in one consignment can give an indication of the causal aspects of the damage, as different varieties have different shelf lives and respond differently to temperature fluctuations.
In addition, wrong stowage may have disastrous results in terms of the performance of the refrigerated container. Blocked ventilation of packaging, plastic sheeting underneath or on top of pallet loads, limited space above the pallet loads or at the door-end hampering circulation: all of this affects the air flow and the cooling capacity of the refrigeration machinery.
As mentioned, containers have often already been stripped and even removed, so it’s difficult to establish, unless a pre-shipment survey had been conducted. But we may draw some conclusions about the stowage if we know the location of pallets with damaged fruit.
Shipper’s temperature recorders versus reefer data
Shippers often place a temperature recorder inside the container during shipment to verify the conditions. However, the records of these must be carefully analysed to assess their accuracy. The location inside the container, outside or inside a pallet load greatly influence the measurements and are not absolute.
It is, therefore, vital to always compare the shipper’s recordings with the recorded reefer data. These are the data that will clearly show the container’s true performance, including errors and events.
Liability and claim assessment
Of course, nothing beats the visual inspection of the stowage during a joint survey. But in the absence of the container, the survey heavily depends on a causal investigation, including the interpretation of the reefer logs. And once we’ve established the cause of the damage and the resulting liability, the surveyor needs to assess whether the claim is realistic. To this end, we compare the claim with current market values, based on the condition of the consignment. Our job is done when the loss has been assessed and expertly reported!