How increasing the frozen food temperature to -15°C could significantly cut carbon emissions

January 18, 2024

Allowing frozen food to be kept at a temperature of -15°C instead of -18°C could reduce carbon emissions while still enabling food to be kept for long periods, research suggests.

The current standard temperature for frozen food was set almost a century ago and since then has remained the norm, even though slightly warmer temperatures may suffice.

The research was carried out by the University of Birmingham in the UK, London South Bank University and the International Institute of Refrigeration in Paris and is being promoted by DP World, the Dubai-based logistics company.

In a statement released by the organisation, Maha AlQattan, the group chief sustainability officer at DP World, said moving to -15°C would “bring the industry together to explore new, greener standards to help decarbonise the sector on a global scale”.

“Through this research, we can see how we can deploy accessible storage technologies in all markets to freeze food at sustainable temperatures, while reducing food scarcity for vulnerable and developed communities,” she said.

Allowing food to be transported and stored at -15°C would, each year, save 17.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, a key contributor to climate change. This is as much CO2 as is emitted by 3.8 million cars.

It would also represent a cut in the costs of the supply chain of at least 5% and, in some instances, of up to 12%, according to DP World. This is because each additional 1 °C colder adds about 2% or 3% to the energy needed to maintain the temperature.

How increasing the frozen food temperature to -15°C could significantly cut carbon emissions

Photo credit: Eduardo Soares / Unsplash

DP World has set up what is described as an industry-wide coalition to look into the feasibility of changing the temperature at which frozen food is stored or transported. This initiative is called Join the Move to -15°C.

A number of major companies have signed up to the scheme, including AP Moller – Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, Daikin, of Japan, the Global Cold Chain Alliance and Kuehne + Nagel International of Switzerland.

Also included are AJC Group, of the United States, Lineage, which is also based in the United States, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which is headquartered in Geneva, and Ocean Network Express (ONE), of Singapore.

Ms AlQattan added that frozen food standards were “long overdue for revision”, given when they were last updated.

“A small temperature increase could have huge benefits but, however committed each individual organisation is, the only can only change what’s possible by working together,” she said.

“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.”

How increasing the frozen food temperature to -15°C could significantly cut carbon emissions

Photo credit: Bozhin Karaivanov / Unsplash

Aside from the greenhouse gas emission benefits, allowing food to be stored or transported at slightly higher temperatures would result in significant cost savings for the logistics and food sectors.

According to figures quoted by DP World, 12% of food produced is wasted because of a lack of cold chain facilities, which indicates that additional capacity may be needed.

Requirements for better facilities may be particularly high in developing nations, illustrated by the way that about half of exportable mangoes in Pakistan were lost in 2022 because of a heatwave.

Professor Toby Peters, professor in energy economy at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said in the statement released by DP World that cold chains were “critical infrastructure” that was “vital for a well-functioning society and economy”.

“Cutting cold chain emissions and transforming how food is safely stored and moved today helps ensure we can keep sustainably feeding communities across the globe as populations and global temperatures rise, protecting nutritious food sources for years to come,” he added.

Main image credit: DP World

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