Increasing shelf-life with puf coldrooms
A Kenyan innovation dubbed Puf Panels Coldrooms, the first of a kind in Sub-Sahara, is projected to overcome losses usually associated with the uncertainty of seasons.
The technology is important in food and agriculture processing as produce relies on temperature, humidity, gas and other factors to remain fresh.
The stainless steel coldrooms are and hygienically built. They are fitted with sandwiched polyurethane panels a metal casing.
The coldrooms have insulated panels and machinery to control temperature.
Suresh Kanotra, the MD of Sheffield Steel Systems Ltd in Nairobi, says the innovation can also dry harvested onions, ginger and garlic through the reverse process of coldrooms. The dried produce has a long shelf-life as it is dehydrated.
He says the National Cereals and Produce Board offers post harvest services like drying, grading and fumigation but there are no such mechanisms for fresh produce.
“Local farmers were in pain when the pandemic struck in 2020. Flights were cancelled, meaning those who produced oats and other perishable goods suffered heavy losses,” he says.
The puf panel set-up entails a selection of machines, based on what is in the coldroom.
Sheffield Steel Systems Ltd makes coldrooms that are powered by solar. These are ideal for smallholder farmers as they reduce the cost of production. Some farmers opt for hybrid coldrooms.
Kanotra says for one to set up a coldroom, they need to identify the type of crop and be in a position to define the production rate and cycle. Design and size depend on where the coldroom is supposed to be.
The smallest is 8x8 feet while the largest is 50x50 metres, Kanotra says.
He adds that Sheffield Steel Systems Ltd has assembled 300 cold rooms since 2017, translating to 30 to 40 a year.
Locally assembled coldrooms are classified into chillers and deep freezers.
They provide a controlled mechanism to store food without losing nutrients and other value.
“With the gadget, you can control temperature, gases and humidity. To store food for long, one can freeze it to -18 degrees Celsius but for shorter periods, the temperature can be adjusted to 2-6 degrees,” he says.
Kanotra adds that most fresh produce farmers incur losses due to lack of storage kits.
“The farmers are at the mercy of middlemen and the weather,” he says.
The Sheffield Steel Systems Ltd MD says with a coldroom, a farmer will not be in a rush to take his or her produce to the market. Selling it long after harvesting fetches higher prices as demand will be high.
One can also import apples from South Africa or another country, for instance, during the peak season and place them in a coldroom for sale later.
Depending on demand, the apple trader can change the conditions and put the produce in the ripening chamber before selling at high prices.