Quality Control - during shipping
Assessment and evaluation of critical points in shipments to Southeast Asia
by Niku Moussavi Biuki, Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition GmbH & Co. KG
"Niku Moussavi Biuki from Dr Eckel, the specialist feed additive company, insightfully explains the importance of assessing and evaluating the critical points in shipments to Southeast Asia. He outlays the studies performed by Dr Eckel in analysing climate conditions during oversea shipments, in the incredibly important process of transporting feed additives amongst other powdered goods."
Southeast Asia already has a high share of global trade, and is becoming increasingly important. However, the humid and warm climatic conditions in this region present a major challenge for powder products. Quality issues include poor flow ability, lumps and microbiological spoilage. Nevertheless, quality must hold, even in adverse conditions.
Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition, German manufacturer and supplier of feed additives, shares the results of a recent evaluation of climate data during shipments of powder products to Southeast Asia.
What stays together, grows together
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), consisting of the 10 Southeast Asian states Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, was established in 2015. With 4.4 million square kilometres, the economic area is similar in size to the EU. The towers of containers in Singapore speak for themselves: with more than 30 million containers loaded annually, Singapore is a heavyweight in global trade and impressively demonstrates the significance of this region for global trade.
Economic dynamism and confidence are already high, and the Southeast Asian region additionally offers great potential for economic growth. Due to the elimination of customs duties and other trade barriers, the AEC will experience a strong growth spurt, which will further increase this potential.
Climate and other inconveniences
Southeast Asia begins east of India and south of China. The constituent countries are home to 625 million people, more than the population of the European Union.
The climate is predominantly tropical and humid: the determining factor is the monsoon, bringing with it showers and torrential rain. Only Myanmar and northern Thailand experience short dry seasons, unlike the rest of Southeast Asia where the dry seasons are not so well defined and it rains throughout the year – in some areas, daily. Temperatures do not vary much: 20°C at night and 30°C during the day, climbing above 40°C in certain areas.
Travellers to distant countries should first familiarise themselves with the rainy season
These extreme weather conditions affect humans, animals and the environment, and particularly the stability and durability of many products. Powders are especially affected, because they have a large internal surface area, making them vulnerable to external influences. The internal surface area of a powder can be 100,000 times larger than its external surface area. Consequently, powders are many times more sensitive to environmental fluctuations. Although special packaging provides reliable protection, it is expensive. Air-conditioned transport is neither an ecological nor an economical alternative.
Therefore, it is all the more important to understand one"s own products and their behaviour in all weathers.
From the start
Product developers are constantly faced with unusual questions: some merely require a certain level of expertise to be resolved, others extensive investigation. But it"s the seemingly simple questions that really make one think.
Dr Eckel"s product range of phytogenics, toxin binders and organic acid mixtures contains raw materials of botanical, mineral and chemical origin. In order to predict storability and shelf life, Dr Eckel product development conducted a series of studies to analyse climate conditions during oversea shipments. The studies were organised with the invaluable support of our local distribution partners.
The key questions were "What are the transport conditions in shipments to Southeast Asia?" and "How do climatic conditions affect the physical and microbiological stability of powder mixtures?"
The immediate reaction was to refer to climate data and to request clarification from shippers. However, there was no satisfactory answer.
Real data had to be produced, but what data?
Seaworthy or seasick?
The factors that largely influence product quality in sea transport are temperature, humidity and time. In addition, sudden drops in temperature could cause condensation during transport.
But how could we reproduce these factors for experimental purposes? The solution: data loggers that record temperature, humidity and dew point were included in shipments. The first shipment took place in winter 2016 and the second in summer 2017. The containers were loaded normally and the data loggers were installed. A total of 24,000 values were recorded and evaluated, and used to produce the gradients for temperature and relative humidity (rH) in the containers from the time they were sealed until they were opened (see Figures 1 and 2). The highest recorded value for temperature was 42.3°C and for moisture 74.8 percent. Altogether, the temperature exceeded 40°C on three of the 36 days of the summer shipment.
Otherwise, the temperature gradient is as expected: the temperature increases steadily during the shipment. The temperature peaks and fluctuations in the latter stages of the shipment, as from day 25 (Figure 1), are clearly visible. These represent the fluctuations between day and night, since the containers are not sheltered.
How safe is transport and storage in the above conditions? Where is there need for improvement?
First of all, two important conclusions can be drawn from the data.
1. The relative humidity is between 40 percent and 70 percent, which is lower than expected. The feared 90 percent humidity was not reached during the shipment. Although the humidity is constant over the longest period of time, it fluctuates by up to 20 percent between day and night. Brief fluctuations are automatically equilibrated (see Figure 2, day 31): The brief increase in ambient humidity causes a temporary increase in rH to 74.8 percent, which then equilibrates at a constant 60 percent. Thus, the amount of moisture in the product is once again in equilibrium with the ambient humidity. All told, one can say that 40-70 percent humidity constitutes normal storage conditions and presents no particular risk to quality.
2. The temperature peaks that occur both in winter and in summer are more critical. Temperatures above 25°C are generally problematic: not only do they present a risk to physical stability, they also present the ideal conditions for the development of microorganisms. It is essential that the impact of temperature on product quality be examined in these cases.
Back to the original questions: "What are the transport conditions? How do extreme climatic conditions affect product stability?"
First and foremost, it is to be noted that the recorded data was obtained from random samples. Temperature extremes as well as other influencing factors, such as container location, cannot be accounted for. This leaves no option but to accept the worst case and assume that containers are exposed to daily fluctuations in temperature between 20°C and 45°C at 40-70 percent humidity.
Even the most conservative parties must agree that these transport conditions are far from ideal for powder mixtures. This presents the challenge to develop formulations that can withstand the difficult conditions (particularly increases in temperature). Fortunately, there are many possible solutions.
Adding anti-caking and drying agents could apply in some cases. Switching from organic to inorganic substrates could be effective for some mixtures. In addition, applying appropriate preservation measures could prevent or at least slow down microbial spoilage.
It is to be noted that any measure will generate costs, which must be justified. Therefore, it is critical that the possible solutions be tested in conditions that are as close to reality as possible, and that their effectiveness be investigated.
There are significant regional differences in climatic and transport conditions. We at Dr Eckel are pleased that, with the help of our local partners, we have been able to gather valuable data on the changing temperature, humidity and dew point.
Being able to test our products using real climatic conditions will help us further improve quality and stability, and hence guarantee that our customers will always receive the highest quality, regardless of climate and time of year. Manufacturers accustomed to delivering products in temperate climatic regions must likewise invest further and improve their products. Local weather conditions must be given more consideration in global trade, in order to ensure quality.
For one thing is certain: if the quality is right, success will follow.
MoldCid, a blend of active substances made by Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition, protects raw materials and feed against spoilage caused by mould, yeast and pathogenic bacterial growth – an important asset in shipment and storage management.
Figure 1: Temperature and humidity during the summer shipment (August 2017)
Figure 2: Temperature and humidity during the winter shipment