Chilling Change: How a 3°C Rise in Frozen Food Temperatures Could Revolutionise Sustainability

A recent study led by an international team of scientists, including experts from the University of Birmingham, the Paris-based International Institute of Refrigeration, and London South Bank University, has revealed that a mere 3°C increase in the temperature at which frozen food is stored could significantly reduce food loss and carbon emissions.

This groundbreaking research, published in the report “Three Degrees of Change,” suggests that altering frozen food storage temperatures from -18°C to -15°C could save the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of 3.8 million cars annually.

Professor Toby Peters from the University of Birmingham, a leading figure in the study, emphasised the critical nature of this finding. He stated, “Globally, 12% of food produced annually for human consumption is lost due to a lack of proper temperature management.

With an increasing global population and a rapidly warming planet reducing 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 highlights that frozen foods, which reduce household food waste by 47% compared to fresh food categories, play a vital role in extending product shelf life and allowing for better consumption planning. Dr Leyla Sayin from the University of Birmingham added, “Increasing the temperature of frozen food by 3°C would make freezing food far less environmentally damaging.

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, which would make freezing food at the point of harvest easier in hotter climates and to maintain during transportation.”

Maha AlQattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer at DP World, commented on the outdated standards of frozen food, stating, “Frozen food standards have not been updated in almost a century. They are long overdue for revision.”

She further noted the formation of an industry-wide coalition, Join the Move to -15°C, to explore the feasibility of this change and support collaboration across the industry to achieve the sector’s shared net-zero ambition by 2050.

This research and the ensuing initiatives represent a significant step towards transforming the global food and cold chain, potentially revolutionising storage technologies in all markets to freeze food at sustainable temperatures, thereby reducing food scarcity for vulnerable and developed communities alike.

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