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One hundred years ago, Clarence Birdseye invented flash-freezing and with it launched the frozen food industry. The world was a very different place then, but his invention would change food production and distribution forever.

At that time, few people, if any, recognised the effect human activity was having on our environment and the profound implications of the resulting climate change.

It has long been recognised that freezing food has a vital role to play in reducing food waste: a major cause of the potent greenhouse gas methane. Freezing extends shelf-life with no loss of freshness or nutrients so the food can be enjoyed by consumers when they want it.

Freezing also has the added advantage of portion control: what you don’t need goes back in the freezer for another day, helping cut food waste further.

But like many food businesses, we are not resting on our laurels and, as a responsible industry, we have a duty to ensure we are doing all we can to minimise our impact on the environment.

Now the results of a recent research project funded by Nomad Foods have identified the potential for a significant cut in carbon emissions across the frozen industry.

Working with experts at Campden BRI, Nomad set out to answer the question: can frozen food products be stored at a higher temperature than the –18°C industry standard?

The answer is a definitive yes.

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Speaking at the recent BFFF Annual Conference, Sam Fulton, Nomad’s director of corporate affairs & sustainability, shared the results of the 12-month study. For every 3°C increase in temperature, it showed a drop in freezer energy consumption of 10%-11%.

The extensive study applied four freezing temperatures – from -18°C up to -9°C – to a range of nine savoury products including poultry, coated fish, natural fish, vegetables, plant-based and pizza. During the storage period, the effects of different temperatures on eight key areas were analysed, including food safety, texture, nutrition, oxidative rancidity, drip loss, packaging, sensory and energy use.

The research concluded that storage at -15°C doesn’t compromise product safety, nutrition, or have any noticeable effects on texture or taste.

Jeremy Harrison, global head of sustainability at Unilever’s ice cream division, also told our conference of a study looking at handheld ice creams in Germany. Turning the dial further, this pilot study showed it was possible to maintain product quality even at -12°C. While some of the frozen treats would need a slight reformulation to maintain the optimum texture over time, Harrison said the potential for a 20% to 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would make this worthwhile.

The results of both these projects represent a huge opportunity for the entire frozen sector. Delivered at scale, the findings have the potential to revolutionise the frozen food industry and deliver significant energy and cost reductions for manufacturers and retailers. However, this is not something that we at the BFFF and a few members can deliver on our own. Other trade bodies, retailers and key stakeholders will need to get involved to explore opportunities for broader collaboration.

To deliver the potential benefits, we will need a broader project that includes the temperature monitoring of the whole frozen logistics chain, from initial production freezing through to supermarket aisle freezers, as well as how exploring how we can support Nomad Foods, Campden BRI and Unilever in sharing their work with the wider frozen food industry.

Adopting higher frozen food storage temperatures has shown the potential to lower energy consumption, improve carbon footprint and reduce costs, all while ensuring safe, high-quality, nutritious food for consumers. As the food industry continues to face rising costs and greater sustainability expectations, this new research could be fundamental in helping businesses remain competitive in challenging times.

I hope readers of The Grocer will be inspired by the results of the study and support us in our mission to create an even more sustainable frozen food industry that’s ready to meet the environmental challenges we all face.