Modernizing the cold chain to maximize sustainable solutions

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Kristian Strand, President, Refrigeration & A/C Controls.

This year’s UN Food Day is a unique one. While the world is still grappling with pandemic related supply chain challenges, I can’t help but reflect on the state of food transport. A cold chain is an uninterrupted series of refrigerated transport and storage activities, that gets fresh produce safely from its production site to the tables where it will be enjoyed. Unfortunately, cold chains are often underdeveloped and overlooked.

Food loss is a critical issue that demands more of our attention. Globally, 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost. This is clearly a problem when so many people around the world lack access to fresh food. Additionally, there are severe environmental costs. The latest numbers show that up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to food loss and waste.

To ensure a stable food supply and safeguard our climate, we must come together to scale access to refrigerated transport and storage, boost energy-efficient cooling and modernize logistics and data collection operations.

Prioritizing access to reliable cold chains

Today up to 50% of food losses occur in the early stages of the supply chain due to lack of proper refrigeration and cold chain bottlenecks. Whenever food is produced in surplus to what the local cold chain can handle, the food is lost. Immediately after a food product is harvested, it begins to deteriorate. Even small temperature changes can be extremely damaging to the shelf life of food, as well as its nutrition level. This means that technology such as refrigerated vehicles, cold storage rooms, and ripening chambers are critical. Proper cooling is essential for maintaining food safety and quality, and the temperature control must be very exact.

A large inequity exists as well, with emerging economies trailing behind in the amount of food moving through reliable cold chains. We must work together to make improvements. To reduce post-harvest losses, we must scale and accelerate the roll-out of cold chain development around the world.

Fighting food loss & climate change together

In addition to the emission reductions earned by preventing food losses, energy efficiency can bring further gains. Cold storage is a very energy-intensive process. 60-70% of the electricity used in cold storage facilities goes towards refrigeration. This means while expanding the cold chain, we must utilize the most energy efficient technologies available, as well as low global warming potential refrigerants to keep the climate impact as low as possible. Industry will be key for delivering these solutions.

Additionally, there is a role for digital monitoring technologies to support with temperature controls and alarms, ensuring the exact optimal amount of cooling is being applied to prevent waste and provide early detection of errors. Digital monitoring can also aid in the tracking of food shipments, ensuring the journey along the cold chain is going smoothly.

The power of reliable cold chains

Several projects have already delivered proven benefits. For example, India is the world’s second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables, but its cold chain has room to grow. A task force was initiated by the Confederation of Indian Industry to examine possibilities. They worked together with global business leaders to implement pre-cooling for newly harvested bananas, as well as ripening chambers to improve control. Loss of the bananas was reduced by 20%, and better yet the income for local farmers tripled as they were able to export produce to Europe for the first time!

Additionally, progress has been made in the fishing industry. Ananda Foods ships shrimp to large food retail brands around the world. Consistent, precise temperatures are critical for food quality and shelf life. Energy-efficient cold chain technology, including control valves and oil-free compressors, helped boost food security, productivity, and profits for Ananda Foods. In the end, the new system improved productivity by 75%.

Coming together to build solutions  

Modernizing the cold chain won’t be easy. The cold chain business is also quite complex with many stakeholders from across the food industry, transport, and technology companies. The technology we need however is ready. Now we need support from policymakers to build frameworks and legislation to reduce barriers and make solutions happen. To modernize the cold chain and take food transport to its next evolution we must …

  • increase investments for researching cold chain developments around the world
  • provide financial incentives to ensure that the best available, energy efficient technology is used
  • accelerate digital monitoring of cold chain logistics to make decision making more effective
  • create training programs to boost skills surrounding the use of low global warming potential refrigerants in the cold chain

If we share the good examples, technologies, and solutions with one another we have a fighting chance to make a big, positive difference. Let’s get to work!