Tweaking cold chain could slash emissions

A new report has shown that raising the temperature of frozen food by just 3°C from -18°C to -15°C could cut carbon emissions by 17.7 million metric tonnes of CO2 a year.

The research, led by the University of Birmingham, the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR), and London South Bank University, among others, indicates that raising the temperature could have a huge impact without compromising food safety or quality.

“Increasing the temperature of frozen food by 3°C would make freezing food far less environmentally damaging,” says Dr Leyla Sayin, Deputy Director, Centre for Sustainable Cooling and Cooling Specialist Advisor to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

“The standard temperature of -18°C was decided 93 years ago and has not changed since, so we have an inbuilt process of ‘over-freezing’ food. It is perfectly safe to freeze food at a higher temperature of -15°C,” Sayin says, adding that the change would make it easier to freeze food at the point of harvest and maintain it during transportation, especially in hotter climates.

The last point is important, because it can help reduce food waste as well as reducing emissions.

“Globally, 12 per cent of food produced annually for human consumption is lost due to a lack of proper temperature management,” says Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University, who led the research and report.

“On top of this, an increasing global population raises the demand for food, while the rapidly warming planet will reduce food production. It is of the utmost importance that we find ways to combat food loss to achieve global equitable food security. Freezing food is one such method, but we need to achieve this as energy efficiently and sustainably as possible.”

The research and report were supported by DP World, a Dubai-based multinational logistics firm and principal partner in COP28. The company has now launched an industry-wide coalition named Join the Move to -15°C to build on the work and explore the feasibility of this change.

“With this research and with our newly formed coalition, we aim to support collaboration across the industry to find viable ways to achieve the sector’s shared net-zero ambition by 2050,” says Maha AlQattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer at DP World.

“The move to -15°C will bring the industry together to explore new, greener standards to help decarbonise the sector on a global scale.”

The Three Degrees of Change report is available at the Centre for Sustainable Cooling website.

Photo by Veran Stanojevic

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