Food Foolish

From the October 2015 issue.

A new book is discussing how a more effective cold supply chain can help humanity reduce food waste and stop over-production.

Hunger, food security, climate emissions and water shortages are anything but foolish topics, yet the way we systematically waste food in the face of these challenges is one of humankind’s unintended but most foolish practices. Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change, a 182-page paperback book co-authored by John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer for United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems, and Eric Schultz, former Chairman and CEO of Sensitech, a United Technologies company specialising in cold chain monitoring and visibility, was written to call attention to the extraordinary social and environmental opportunities created by wasting less food. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4, named ‘Enter the Cold Chain’.

When the Cold Chain Works
Turek Farm is the third largest vegetable farm in the state of New York and a top 10 grower nationally of sweet corn. David, Frank Jr. and Jason Turek also grow squash, pumpkins, cabbage and green beans on 4,000 acres of rain-fed farmland. Everything grown is perishable and each product will make its way successfully to market up and down the U.S. East Coast if, and only if, the company’s carefully managed cold chain does its part. “A lot of people can make a decent crop,” says Jason Turek. “Getting it to market safely can be a challenge.”

Of course, Jason is being modest. Farmers like the Tureks face everything from national competition, inferior seed and pests to drought and flood. “Even the weather has become more extreme,” adds Jason, feeling the effects of climate change. “Normal is now the average between two extremes.” Waste can begin at the moment a seed is planted; if it happens to be a half-inch deeper than those around it, the vegetable might ripen too late to be harvested with the rest of the crop. With so many obstacles to profitable farming, so much investment at stake each season, and increasing demands from retailers, the need to preserve healthy produce once harvested is paramount. This requires a robust, unbroken cold chain.

“Sweet corn quality can be lost overnight without refrigeration,” says Frank Turek Jr., and “it’ll taste like cardboard.” 33 Consequently, once picked, corn on the Tureks’ farm is quickly packed and cooled to about 4.4°C/40°F. From there it’s moved to refrigerated storage, onto refrigerated trucks (with a covering of ice on each truckload to preserve moisture), and eventually to a refrigerated retail distribution center. If all goes well, an ear of Turek sweet corn won’t rise much above 4.4°C/40°F until it reaches the shelves of a grocery store.

Having a seamless cold chain is the only way the Tureks can preserve freshness and shelf life of their products, ensure food safety, and meet the specifications of retailers. It is the only way their product can delight customers. And perhaps most importantly, their investment in a modern cold chain is the only way to reduce food waste, a spectre that haunts farmers – even those with access to the best agricultural inputs and equipment available – from the moment they plant seed in the ground. Despite decades of success and a strong brand, Jason says, “We’re only as good as our last order.”

The Broader Food Supply Chain
Not all foods need to be handled quite as carefully as vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat. But all food is perishable and subject to loss.

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