New study finds $3.8 billion in food wastage each year due to faults in the Cold Food Chain
A study has reported an estimate of 2,183,500 tonnes of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and dairy products is wasted each year due to breaks and deficiencies in the cold food chain.
A report prepared for Refrigerants Australia and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has shown that poor temperature management is the greatest risk for perishable food. During transportation and handling between mobile and stationary refrigeration points, there are sometimes huge temperature variations between truck or trailer, loading docks and storage facilities. This results in significant amounts of food waste before items get to the supermarket or restaurant.
Preliminary and conservative estimates put the cost of food waste within the cold food chain at $3.8 billion at farm gate values in 2018. This is comprised of:
- • 25% (1,930,000 tonnes) of annual production of fruit and vegetables worth $3 billion
- • 3.5% of annual production of meat (155,000 tonnes) worth $670 million, and seafood (8,500 tonnes) worth $90 million
- • 1% (90,000 tonnes) of annual dairy production valued at $70 million
The greenhouse gas emissions from food waste, attributed to sub-par refrigeration technology, practices and processes in the cold food chain, are estimated at 7.0 Mt CO2-e in Australia. Globally, if wasted food was viewed as a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.
The transportation and storage of food in this country is big business. In 2018, more than 23 million tonnes of foodstuffs, worth $42 billion based on farm gate values, passed through the Australian cold food chain. This number is predicated to get bigger with production and transport of food and is projected to grow strongly in Australia over the next 20 years as export capacities expand.
Dr Greg Picker, Executive Director of Refrigerants Australia, says whilst industry was aware there was a problem, the report shows the true size and the implications this has on business and the environment.
“The numbers in this report are truly astonishing,” said Picker. “We always thought there were issues, which has now been confirmed for us in a big way. And it’s alarming as the faults are mainly behavioural which could be changed through educating those involved. Leaving food on the loading dock for too long, not closing truck doors, incorrectly stacked crates, these are small things that are resulting in temperature changes and food being spoiled.
“The cold food chain in Australia is long and complicated, and innocently each company, each link in that chain, would think a little bit of waste at their point wouldn’t matter. However, when you collate that waste across the entire chain the end figure is mind blowing.
“There is also the environmental consequence to consider. Think of all the water that would get used to grow and produce this food, or the emissions emitted during the farming, packaging and transporting of this food that gets tossed out. There are far too many people hungry people in Australia and starving across the world for this amount to be wasted unnecessarily,” said Picker.
Mr Mark Mitchell, Chairman of the Australian Cold Food Chain Council, forecasts that Australia will need to adopt training and education programs so that those responsible for moving food and pharmaceuticals around the country can get the best out of available technology.
“The best way for Australian food and refrigerated transport businesses to celebrate World Refrigeration Day would be to promise to do a great deal more to limit horrific food waste through better management of their refrigerated spaces and transport processes,” said Mitchell.
“While this is an opportunity to remind the world of the great benefits and opportunities provided by refrigeration, it also provides us with an opportunity to call to account those industry sectors in Australia that are misusing refrigeration through abuse of temperature controls and poor food handling processes in refrigerated transports, loading docks and cold rooms.
“Due to the vast distances in this country, food transport is a series of refrigerated events, in the hands of a range of stake holders, many of whom don’t understand how it all works. As an example, mangoes picked in the Northern Territory may be handled through stationary and mobile refrigerated spaces as many as 14 times by multiple owners on a 3,400 km journey to Melbourne. If temperature abuse through poor refrigeration practices occurs in just one of those spaces, the losses at the consumer end are compounded, and shelf life can be either drastically reduced, or result in the whole load being sent to landfill,” said Mitchell.
Kylie Farrelley, General Manager of Refrigerants Reclaim Australia, says this report highlights how the refrigeration industry and those organisations involved in the food cold chain can make improvements to reduce waste.
“The refrigeration industry is a crucial part of the cold food chain which, considering the volume of food that moves through it, has been extraordinarily successful,” said Farrelley. “However, there is room for improvement, both in how refrigeration technology is used and improved practices in the cold food chain. If everyone in the cold food chain works together, we can reduce the amount of food that is wasted, which will have positive impacts on everyone involved, from farmers, to the end consumer and the environment.
“While there are many and varied causes of food loss and waste, this study identifies many simple practices that would cost-effectively reduce perishable food waste, which would be of benefit to the whole community,” said Farrelley.
David Appel, President of Refrigeration Carrier (Global), of which Carrier Transicold is a sub brand, says the cold chain is in greater demand now more than ever.
“Carrier technology plays a leading role in the safe transport of medicine and the global effort to reduce food loss and waste, and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Appel. “COVID-19 shines an even brighter spotlight on the cold chain and getting food and medicine to those most in need. Cold chain system resiliency has proven to be an essential element to supply availability. We see that in the life sciences segment, monitoring strict temperature compliance is mission-critical to the delivery of diagnostic test kits, clinical-trial materials and vaccines.
“Greater connectivity is an essential piece of the future for the entire cold chain. We envision and are working to build an end-to-end cold chain that will reduce cost and waste in today’s cold chain network,” said Appel.