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Cold chain vs food waste

Developed countries have an equally critical role as developing countries in addressing the serious economic, social and environmental problems associated with food waste, according to experts at the recent World Cold Chain Summit to Reduce Food Waste.

David Appel, president Carrier Transicold & Refrigeration Systems
David Appel, president Carrier Transicold & Refrigeration Systems

Around 130 delegates from 35 countries attended the two-day summit in Singapore, where global leaders in the supply chain private sector joined academics and government representatives in addressing the escalating problems associated with food loss and wastage.

VASA director Mark Mitchell was Australia’s sole expert at the Summit, representing and delivering a presentation on the mobile refrigeration sector.

“The proper refrigeration and transport of food are major keys to limiting food wastage, and while the developed world has the technologies, there is room for improvement in the way food is handled in the cold chain,” said Mr Mitchell during his presentation, which highlighted that technology has a crucial role in reducing food waste, but only if it is properly implemented.

Mark Mitchell

“A considerable amount of food is being wasted in the developed world cold chain and its logistics, and Australia is no exception … Improvements in the cold chain to prevent food loss can occur only when collaboration exists between process, vehicle body building and refrigeration.”

Spoilage is the main reason behind the vast amount of food produced for human consumption that is lost before it even makes it to market in the developing world, with the FAO highlighting that such inefficiency has serious economic, social and environmental consequences. 

The carbon footprint alone of food produced and not eaten is estimated to be 3.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, meaning that food loss and waste would rank as the third top greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China if it were a country.

Prof Judith Evans of London South Bank University added that in developed countries, 42 per cent of food waste happens at the household level, highlighting the need for greater consumer awareness.

“The worst thing you can do is waste food at the consumer end of the cold chain,” she said. “And in developing countries, this is where most of the loss occurs.” 

The summit endorsed the new United Nations Sustainable Development 12.3 Goal that calls for halving food waste at retail and consumer levels, as well as reducing food losses along the entire global food supply chain, by 2030.

“One third or more of the food we produce each year is never eaten, yet more than 50 per cent of the wasted food can have its shelf life extended by the cold chain,” said David Appel, president of United Technologies Corp subsidiary and summit sponsor Carrier Transicold & Refrigeration Systems.

“Only 10 per cent of worldwide perishable foods are refrigerated today, so there is immense opportunity to cut food waste and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions by implementing or improving the cold chain.”

Keynote speaker Dr Joseph Mpagalile, an agro-food industries officer for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, said there was an urgency to repair and improve the world’s broken food system.

“About half of food loss and waste occurs in developing countries,” he said. “By 2030 about 90 per cent of people will live in developing countries. Without change, food production will need to grow 60 per cent to 70 per cent to feed this growing population.

“What can be done?” Mpagalile asked. “The cold chain must be introduced in developing countries in a sustainable manner.

“The government and private sector must make a real commitment to this development.” 

While many parts of the developing world have set aggressive goals to reduce food loss, Mpagalile stressed that “without a commitment to developing the cold chain, those goals will be very difficult to achieve”.

The FAO has taken the lead role in founding a coalition to tackle the problem, with a special focus on developing countries. According to Mpagalile, the proposed coalition will be rolled out with a multibillion-dollar budget over three years, beginning in 2016. 

“If we all join hands, we will be able to reduce food waste,” he said. “Everyone in the food supply chain will benefit – farmers, postharvest handlers, processing and storage, distribution and transportation, wholesale and retailing and consumers.” 

Fellow keynote speaker Didier Coulomb, who is general director of the International Institute of Refrigeration, said 23 per cent of food loss and waste in developing countries was due to the lack of a cold chain – compared to nine per cent in the developed world. 

Ethiopia, for example, has just two litres per person of refrigeration compared to 344L per person in the US.

“If we could attain the same losses in developing countries as developed countries, the global food supply only needs to grow 15 per cent by 2050 versus 70 per cent forecast growth,” he said.