Focus on frozen

Hats off to Dave Lewis for highlighting the grocery industry’s role in reducing food waste. His goal of redirecting Tesco’s 30,000 tonnes of food waste to distribution centres and charities is ambitious. Hopefully other retailers will follow his lead.

Food waste is also a major issue in foodservice. Wrap estimates 920,000 tonnes of food is wasted at outlets each year, 75% of which is avoidable and could have been eaten. As our food waste mountain piles up, some people in our country are going hungry and are forced to go to food banks. At the same time, demand for food is growing globally, leading to a greater focus on future food security.

The Defra 2010 Food Strategy Report identified what needs to be done to improve food security in the UK. Recommendations include reducing food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and increasing sustainable food production. In addition, the government has set targets to significantly reduce emissions by 2030, so the industry needs to be proactive in contributing to meeting these objectives.

The benefit of freezing food to preserve its shelf life is well known. I have long advocated wider use of freezing by manufacturers and increased consumption of frozen by consumers as a way of reducing food waste.

But what is not appreciated is frozen food’s potential role in reducing GHGE. The report Frozen Food and Food Security in the UK commissioned by the British Frozen Food Federation found increasing the use of frozen food could play a big part in building better food security and cutting GHGE emissions.

Focusing on four ingredients - broccoli, carrots, potatoes and Atlantic cod - the report demonstrated the benefits of switching from fresh to frozen.

For instance, using frozen broccoli would enable the UK to become 100% self-sufficient in broccoli production if frozen florets were used through the winter instead of fresh from Spain. It also showed frozen broccoli could reduce associated GHGE by 15% through fewer food miles.

In the case of Atlantic cod, a reduction of 1.5kg of equivalent CO2 could be made for every kilogramme transported if a like-for-like swap were made with fresh and frozen Atlantic cod. Frozen Atlantic cod was also proven to produce less GHGE even when transported via China for processing before being sold in the UK. What’s more, it’s 30% less expensive than fresh.

The report also suggested that if the frozen food market were to grow at the same rate as in 2012, carrot and potato waste would be reduced by 13% and 8% respectively.

In conclusion, the research showed a move to freezing more food could play a valuable role in meeting the government’s 2020 and 2050 food security targets.

With the world’s population forecast to reach over nine billion by 2050, there is an urgent need to address the food security issue. Freezing food is just one part of the solution, but clearly it is an important and underutilised tool and one I would encourage everyone in food production and retail to seriously consider.

Brian Young is DG of the British Frozen Food Federation