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Food And Perishables


Food and perishables

For hundreds of years Britain has needed to import food to feed itself. For instance, citrus fruits from Southern Europe, apples from South Africa, bananas from the West Indies, lamb from Australia or New Zealand, beef from South America, bacon from Denmark. Bringing this produce home in the best possible condition has required a lot of ingenuity from ship designers. For example, meat needed to be frozen or chilled to survive the long journey without going bad. Fruit also needs to be carefully stored at the right temperature. Ships carrying foodstuffs are often particularly fast.

Foodstuffs being transported inside Southampton`s Union-Castle warehouse

Magnifying glassFoodstuffs being transported inside Southampton`s Union-Castle warehouse

When the food arrives in the UK, it needs to be looked after just as carefully. Therefore, ports that handle imported food need facilities like cold stores to keep the produce until it could be sold or processed. Also required is a workforce skilled in handling these types of cargo. For instance, fruit porters needed to be able to judge the condition of fruit they were handling. There also needed to be the right transport facilities. For instance bananas have to be loaded on to rail wagons or road trucks as quickly as possible and sent on their way to the markets before they became too ripe. 

Because it had a large population living nearby and also provided these facilities, London grew to be Britain`s major food importer. It never, though, captured much banana traffic.

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audioInsects on bananas (0:54)

audioRoyal Mail meat boats (0:57)



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With containers, the trade in imported meat has changed, as with so much else. The food is now usually packed in containers. These may have built-in cooling or refrigeration equipment. When unloaded from the ship, the containers are simply put onto a truck or train to be taken to their destination: skilled handling or storage is not required. Thus, ports that have the facilities for handling containers most efficiently now import most of our food. 

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