- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Inside it’s a balmy minus 15 degrees, but minus 40 if you consider the wind chill caused by the massive fans in the blast freezing room at a newly expanded cold storage building on the South Carolina coast.

Stacked almost to the ceiling in the cavernous structure near a South Carolina Ports Authority terminal are pallets of imported Australian beef, pork raised on farms in the Southeast and chicken legs being exported to Asia.

The $18 million expansion more than doubles the size of the existing facility operated by New Orleans Cold Storage.

The expansion was completed with a $15 million contribution from the authority, which is also adding new dock infrastructure for refrigerated cargo, a quickly growing segment of port business.

Refrigerated cargo volumes through Charleston have increased almost 40 percent in five years. By later this year, 600,000 square feet of cold storage will be available to port customers: a more than tenfold increase in just seven years.

“It’s an important addition to the group of assets that serve our port,” said Jim Newsome, the authority’s president and CEO, who said refrigerated cargo is an important part of world trade. “We have historically underperformed in that segment and we are catching up.”

Refrigerated products now comprise about 4 percent of authority exports, much of it pork and chicken from farms in the Southeast.

New Orleans Cold Storage, founded in the 1880s, expanded to North Charleston in 1987. It was its first facility outside of New Orleans. The expansion adds more refrigerated storage and more room for so-called blast freezing.

Most producers ship fresh produce that needs to be frozen for export.

“They don’t have the capabilities to freeze the produce themselves in their own production facilities so they bring it to facilities like ours,” Mark Blanchard, the president and CEO of New Orleans Cold Storage.

“We take produce that is 34 to 38 degrees put it in our blast freezer and circulate a lot of cold air on it and it freezes quickly,” he said. Large pallets of produce are frozen within 20 to 44 hours.

When a customer is ready to ship, the goods are loaded into refrigerated shipping containers and taken by trucks to the docks. There they are placed on special racks which allow the containers to be plugged into electricity so they remain cold. After transfer to ships, the containers are again plugged in.

The authority board on Wednesday agreed to spend nearly $5 million to add four additional refrigerator racks on the docks at its Mount Pleasant terminal. Each rack can hold 30 containers, meaning an additional 120 refrigerated containers can be moved through the port at the same time.

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Follow Bruce Smith at twitter.com/brucesmithAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/bruce-smith

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