Cold storage group to reassess temperature standards

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by Emily Atkins

The cold chain industry is looking at warming up to help keep the planet cool.

New research suggests that cold chain participants can warm up storage without compromising food safety. Research backed by DP World shows that increasing the temperature of frozen food by three degrees, from -18°C to -15°C, could save the equivalent emissions of 3.8 million cars without affecting the food.

Experts from the Paris-based International Institute of Refrigeration, the University of Birmingham and London South Bank University, among others, found that the small change could save 17.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and create energy savings of around 25 terawatt-hours (TW/h), the equivalent to 8.63 percent of the UK’s annual energy consumption. This could end up saving at least five percent in supply chain costs, and up to 12 percent in some areas.

A new coalition, “Join the Move to -15 C”, is exploring the potential transition to new, greener standards to help reduce carbon emissions in the sector on a global scale. Spearheaded by DP World, the group includes Lineage Logistics, A.P. Moller – Maersk of Denmark; CMA CGM of France; Daikin of Japan; the Global Cold Chain Alliance; Hapag-Lloyd of Germany; Switzerland’s Kuehne + Nagel International; Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) of Italy; and Singapore-based Ocean Network Express.

Endorsing the “Join the Move to -15 C” initiative involves reassessing the longstanding international temperature standard of -18 C, established in the 1930s and untouched for nearly a century. This initiative offers a chance for industry-wide collaboration to explore practical avenues that would contribute toward realizing the shared net-zero goal for the sector by 2050.

Globally, 12 percent of food produced annually for human consumption is lost due to a lack of proper temperature

Food freezing, as a form of preservation, extends product shelf life without detriment to food safety for months, while also offering built-in opportunities to optimize utilization through scheduled consumption. Research has demonstrated that frozen foods results in 47 percent less household food waste than fresh food. However, with frozen foods comes a
significant energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions challenge to the success of a transition to sustainable cold-
chains: it is energy intensive to freeze foods and hold them at a sub-zero temperature.

At the core of this challenge is the sub-zero temperature at which stationary and mobile refrigeration systems are required to be set (the ‘set-point’) for handling frozen products. Currently the industry standard set-point is -18°C or lower: a temperature established in the mid-20th century which provides a good margin of safety.

However, many foods only need to be stored at just below -12°C, and every degree lower requires two to three percent more energy. The coalition is looking at the question: Is -18°C relevant in the context of today’s food products, and does reducing refrigeration temperatures to below those that are required to maintain product safety and quality lead to unnecessary energy consumption with associated avoidable GHG emissions?

 A research report, Three degrees of change, was published in time for the COP28 environmental summit, in November 2023. The “Join the Move to –15 C” coalition and DP World have made the research accessible to all. It can be downloaded here.