Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Improve refrigeration, save lives

The University of Nottingham and Carrier have collaborated on a research project which aims to stimulate investment in the cold chain. Andrew Gavedreports

The University of Nottingham and Carrier have collaborated on a research project which aims to stimulate investment in the cold chain. This goal could ultimately save billions of pounds – and even lives. 

The University of Nottingham and refrigeration giant Carrier have collaborated on a project which they see as the first step towards an ambitious goal of reducing  food loss through stimulating investment in the global cold chain.

Achieving this goal would have no lesser a consequence than drastically reducing hunger in the developing world and saving billions of pounds in wasted food in the developed nations.

The preliminary findings of the research suggest there are huge opportunities to improve the cold chain globally, given that in many countries the chain is under-developed or non-existent.

The fundamental starting point is that while almost a billion people globally are deemed to be malnourished, a massive 33 per cent of all food produced around the world is either lost or wasted.

The principle thus being explored is that if this food loss can be reduced, then more people could be fed.

In its white paper on the subject, Feeding a Hungry World, Carrier’s parent company United Technologies Corporation says: “Where the cold chain exists today it can be improved; where it is still nascent, it can be expanded; where it does not exist it can be built to extend food to people that need it.

In all cases, investment in an integrated network of temperature-controlled space can have a profound impact on reducing food loss and feeding a hungry world.”

Big benefits

The potential benefits are huge – a properly functioning cold chain has been shown to bring perishable food lost down to just 2 per cent.

The collaboration with Nottingham University is just one of the partnerships that Carrier and UTC are undertaking in a bid to raise awareness of the potential for change. In a similar way to which the companies sought to change thinking about greener buildings a decade ago, Carrier, UTC and transport refrigeration subsidiary Transicold  are setting out to bring governments, NGOs and commercial companies from all parts of the cold chain together.

As with the green building campaign, the aim is a bold one of moving far beyond the cooling sector to engage all stakeholders in a dialogue.

One of the prime movers at UTC, chief sustainability officer John Mandyck, says the success of the previous campaign gave the company hope for seeding change.

He said: “Our activities in the green building space helped lead to the forming of the first green building council and to the establishing of the LEED standard. It literally changed the way things are done in that sector and today there are 100 Green Building Councils around the world.

With the campaign to reduce food waste, we are following the same model: we want to elevate the discussion and create a global dialogue.”

Given that stricter food safety standards have been proven to drive cold chain improvements, as has been found in India, there is a clear benefit from involving the policymakers as much as possible.

The campaign was launched for a European audience with the staging of the inaugural Global Cold Chain Summit in London, bringing together representatives from distribution, refrigeration, food and sustainability spheres with academics and trade associations.

Clearly UTC, with interests across stationary refrigeration and cooling, and road and marine refrigerated transport, together with temperature monitoring via specialist Sensitech, believes it is better placed than most to influence across the cold chain.

Mr Mandyck maintains that the wider cooling industry has a vital role: “There is an obligation on the technology providers to join the dots,” he says, “and that means joining the dots on a number of levels.”

 He adds though that  there is a subtle difference between the food waste campaign and the green buildings work. “With the Green Buildings we were talking about ‘how can we build a better building?’, but with this it is much more connected to a human, emotional story.”

A huge task

Mr Mandyck does not deny that this is a huge task – the scale of which is revealed in some of the research – but he believes that driving the food waste debate into sustainability discussions is an achievable goal. “A measure of success will be getting food waste included in government policies.

We can do something, but clearly getting it onto the agenda of the global climate debates will be harder.”

In its white paper, UTC notes that the carbon footprint of food loss and waste is estimated to be 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – making it the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world after China and the US.

The challenge, Mr Mandyck adds, is not so much developing new technologies, but getting the right people to focus on the potential for existing ones: “We need to focus government attention on what can be done.”

In terms of technology, a key element will be providing products that will work within the restrictions of the developing world infrastructure – where electricity supply is inconsistent; where logistics are underdeveloped and where the skills base in refrigeration is not always high.

“Systems need to be scaled to what is needed. It doesn’t mean that they are not high quality, but it must meet the needs,” he says.

For Carrier, that is also likely to mean a focus on natural refrigeration techniques where possible. “We are the only company in the world who is committing to CO2 across the cold chain,” Mr Mandyk stresses. 

Having sold 1,100 of its Co2oltec carbon dioxide refrigeration systems in Europe, the logical next step, says Mr Mandyk is to develop a simplified system for the developing world: “Transicold has already developed a refrigerated truck for India, the CitiFresh, which is an affordable technology for that market. It is the sort of technology that is needed.”

The Citifresh range claims a robust design and stainless steel evaporator, making it easy to install and maintain, Carrier says, as well as accommodating demanding applications including high ambients up to 50 deg C.

The Citifresh range is aimed at transporting chilled fruit and vegetables at a broad chilled temperature range of 4 deg C to 22 deg C. The Citifresh 500, the first unit to be introduced within the range, uses R134a, with a refrigeration capacity up to 4,500 W in high ambient temperatures.

Preliminary findings

The preliminary research by the University of Nottingham, The Impact of Reducing Food Loss in the Cold Chain sets out to analyse the supply chain of perishable foods is in a variety of different countries, to establish how and to what extent the food waste (generally held to be food that has been unused because of human inaction or action) or the food loss (referring to food that has decreased in quality and is no longer fit for human consumption) is occurring.

The researchers say: “In developing countries, the lack of access to cold chain systems and reliable energy sources required to power them, results in large post-harvest losses – from 10 to 50 per cent food loss.

Other causes of food loss include poor harvesting practice, poor supply chain management and insufficient or inappropriate regulations.”

By contrast, they say, the loss of food in developed countries, where there are established cold chain systems in place, tends to be more down to behavioural issues, such as buying more food than can realistically be eaten.

However, they say, food losses can also be caused by poor temperature management in the cold chain or poor handling, as well as bad retail practice, such as rejecting cosmetically damaged fruit and vegetables.

Some of the statistics from the developing world are quite surprising in their proportion, although the researchers note that accurate statistics are hard to come by.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that 36 per cent of food is lost post-harvest, yet only 7 per cent of that is lost at the consumer stage – 12.5 per cent is lost at harvest and 12.7 per cent is lost post-harvest, with 4.5 per cent each at the processing and distribution stages.

But these are dwarfed by the sheer scale of food losses in the US, where it is estimated that 133 billion pounds or 33 per cent of the volume, is wasted at the consumer or retail level. This loss amounts to $162bn a year.

Perhaps offering most opportunity for the cooling industry is the fact that consultant Joan Rosen estimates “20-30 per cent of US food quality  is due to improper temperature and atmosphere in a long and complex perishable cold chain – lost sales due to waste and spoils and costly labour to remove unsaleable product”.

As the researchers note, reducing perishable food loss doesn’t depend on any one factor – and not just on the cold part of the cold chain either: “The storage of perishable goods depends not just on the storage facilities themselves, but also transport  facilities, roads, bridges, electricity and water supplies and effective drainage and sanitation.”

However, a key element in the developing world  is sheer lack of refrigeration, they conclude. “In much of the developing world there is no cold chain.

Affordable and efficient cold storage facilities must be developed.

If a cold chain is already in place there must be strict adherence to food safety regulation. If perishable food is kept at its optimum temperature for its entire lifecycle, food loss will be reduced.”

One of the more interesting areas of the research is to highlight some of the technology areas that could help to solve the current wastage and loss.

Among these is: the use of ‘smart’ refrigerators, which alert the user to the food that is about to go bad; new distribution and storage models that improve shelf life; intelligent packaging with time temperature indicators; and packaging that reduces condensation or the growth of bacteria.

The university of Nottingham’s conclusion is unequivocal – reducing food loss “should be a global priority, as it will help feed the many starving people around the world as well as reduce the huge environmental impact associated with food loss.”

A key next step, the authors conclude, is to work out what cold chain technologies are the most appropriate for the often high-ambient, low-energy infrastructure.

RAC will continue to report on the campaign as it continues, and we would welcome any contribution to the debate

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.