What is a cold chamber?
A cold chamber refers to an enclosed structure that helps in the ripening process of plants and vegetables and increasing the shelf life of the fruits, flowers and other crops stored within the chamber. These chambers help in bulk handling perishables like fruits and vegetables in the line from production to marketing. It ensures that the produce stays fresh and consumable for longer periods by manipulating and controlling the temperature, humidity and lights inside a cold chamber system. It is however, important to ensure that the temperature is not extremely low or else the produce may go into a cold shock and end up being damaged.
A cold chamber was first created with bricks, sand and an enclosed roof made out of coconut leaves or grass. Sand was filled in between the brick walls and watered every day in the mornings as well as evenings. This is a zero-energy cold chamber that can be easily constructed for small farms and has proven to be as effective as an automated cold storage, that will cost much more to local farmers.
Advantages of cold chambers:
• Produce that is ripened in a cold chamber is much firmer as compared to produce that is ripened under external ambient conditions.
• The shelf life of the produce can also be increased drastically and the rotting process of the produce is decreased. Example: the shelf life of grapes can be increased to over 60 days if stored in a cold chamber as compared to just 8-12 days of shelf life if stored in ambient conditions.
• Reduces internal water loss and wilting of the produce
• Farmers can negotiate the right prices of the produce with middle men or even sell the produce directly as they will have enough time before the rotting starts and they do not have to come under the techniques of pressure sales and end up losing profits.
• Increase in preservation rates of vitamins of the produce and hence the quality of the produce can be maintained for longer periods of time.
• Zero energy cool chambers for small scale operations and other cool chambers that are built keeping in mind the cost and budget will actually consume very less energy but would prove to advantageous in the long run by solving the problem of reduced fresh fruits.
• Reduce the chance of attacks by micro-organisms or degradation caused by enzymes.
• A group of farmers can pool together and install a common cold chamber for all their individual produce and this can boost a positive co-operative operation and prove to be pocket friendly as well.
Features of a cold chamber:
• Temperature: The temperature inside a cold chamber can be automated and controlled based on the needs of the plants. It can vary even on a day-to-day basis and can reach as low as 4 degrees Celsius in certain high-power storages.
• Energy efficient: Cold chambers are extremely energy efficient if installed at the right size based on the quantity of produce. There are various models that can be adjusted to a certain degree to suit the needs of the farmers.
Pre cooling chamber:
Pre cooling chambers are designed in such a way that they help in removing excess heat from fruits and vegetables. Pre cooling chambers generally have evaporating units that suck cold air through perforations in boxes of the produce in order to attain the appropriate temperature within a few hours. Rapid cooling is achieved by maintaining the high levels of humidity within the chambers that promote a retention in the freshness of fruits and vegetables and also helps in avoiding fibre and weight loss in the same.
Pre cooling has various benefits like:
- Lowering the workload and pressure on the actual cold chambers.
- Preventing water loss, wilting, rotting and softening of the produce
- Ensuring that the weight of the produce is maintained and there is no enzyme degradation.
- Reducing and minimizing the respiratory activity of the produce post ripening.
- Reducing the chances of cold shock for the produce when it is shifted to the cold chamber.
- Preventing pest attacks and insect infestation.
- Reducing microbial growth of fungus and bacteria hence helps in reducing the decay rates.
There are various factors that determine the right kind of cold storage and it is extremely important to understand the needs of the produce. It is best to gain professional help and decide upon the right variation of cold chambers that will not only be beneficial to the produce but also prove to be cost effective and pocket friendly.