Spoilage? Perish the thought!

The new Fresh/td competence team has been responsible for the transport of fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish and meat since this year; perishable coordinators monitor adherence to EU import policies.

Suthiwan Khamthong gets to her feet. The Lufthansa freighter from Nairobi is parked in front of the door – not 100 metres away from the handling coordinator's desk. Khamthong had already arranged the day before with colleagues at the Fraport airport operator for the MD-11 to dock directly at the Perishable Center. The closer the MD-11 is to the refrigerated warehouses for perishable goods, the shorter the distance the fruit, vegetables and flowers must travel.

LH 8297 has a cargo load of 80 tonnes this Wednesday morning. Almost exclusively vegetables, fruit and especially flowers. A smaller amount from South Africa, most from Kenya. Khamthong has known the precise composition of the cargo for a couple of hours. When she arrived at work at 6 in the morning and booted her PC, the email from her colleagues in Nairobi with the relevant details had already been waiting there a while.    

Such tracking lists weren’t used before. They contain important information, including: which perishables are on board and on which pallets? Is the consignment destined for Frankfurt or is it transit freight? Will the goods be transported further by air or road? Which temperature corridor must be maintained for the various fruit and vegetables? “The lists”, says Oliver Blum, Head of the Fresh/td competence team, “are very important to us.” They are as new as the whole team itself. Set up in February, the department has been complete under trained gardener and economist Blum since June.

Since then, ten men and women at Lufthansa Cargo have been focused on perishable goods only. The perishable consignments were organised by the Cool/td team for many years, and tended to get a little lost amongst the many refrigerated containers.

As the first pallets with roses from Kenya are unloaded from the aircraft, Suthiwan Khamthong reaches for a laser gun. This piece of equipment is a high-tech thermometer with which she measures the temperature in the boxes full of roses and enters it on a list.

The values range from 5 to 8 degrees – everything's ok. A yellow sticker on the packaging with the words “Keep temperature not above 2-8° C” emphasises the sensitive nature of the contents.
Not ten minutes later, ten thousand roses are pulled on four trolleys by a tractor to the Perishable Center and placed in interim cold storage there. The driver of the tractor also has important documents which Robert Kunze of the team of perishable coordinators is already awaiting.

The eight perishable coordinators make sure that flowers from Ecuador and Kenya, vegetables from Peru and South Africa, fish from Senegal, hatching eggs from the US and bovine sperm from Canada are examined by veterinarians or plant inspectors from the Regional Council according to strict European Union regulations. The checks are aimed at preventing the introduction of vermin, fungi and pathogens.
“We are the team that prevents anything unchecked from being brought into the EU”, says team leader Verena Ernst. This applies just as much to tomato seeds from Israel and aubergines from Kenya as it does to lobsters from the east coast of America.

The list of “prohibitions and restrictions” is long. The perishable coordinators are well familiar with them. But every now and then, the experts must also ponder whether freight is objectionable.

When a consignment of women’s hats from Florida was unloaded in Frankfurt and it emerged from the freight papers that the elegant headpieces were adorned with crocodile leather, Robert Kunze informed customs just to be on the safe side. There could have been a breach of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Its experts gave the all-clear after checking the documents. The leather had come from animals kept for breeding; the importation was legal and not objectionable.