Three degrees of separation

Backed by expert research, DP World is asking the refrigerated transport industry to raise its standard temperature for the sake of the planet. They say this cold chain change is simple, won’t compromise food safety and will slash carbon emissions.

Three degrees doesn’t sound like much but according to recently released university researchers, it’s the equivalent of the emissions of 3.8 million cars per year.

Results from academics at the International Institute of Refrigeration, the University of Birmingham and London South Bank University have found that raising the standard temperature of transported frozen food by three degrees could save 17.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and bring energy savings of between five and 12 per cent.

Global logistics company, DP World, supported the research and have used the results to spearhead an industry-wide coalition to explore the feasibility of raising the standard frozen food temperature to 15°C.

Most frozen food is transported and stored at -18°C, a standard that was set 93-years-ago and has not changed since. Annually, hundreds of millions of tonnes of food is transported around the world and while freezing food extends its shelf life, it comes with a significant environmental cost – two to three per cent more energy is required for every degree below zero that food is stored.

“Frozen food standards have not been updated in almost a century and are long overdue for revision,” said Group Chief Sustainability Officer at DP World, Maha AlQattan. “A small temperature increase could have huge benefits but, however committed each individual organisation is, the industry can only change what’s possible by working together.”

DP World’s coalition has already caught the attention of leading industry organisations including Daikin, AP Moller-Maersk, the Global Cold Chain Alliance, Kuehne + Nagel and Lineage.

The demand for frozen food is increasing as appetites evolve in developing countries and price-conscious consumers seek nutritious but affordable food, yet experts estimate that 12 per cent of food produced annually is wasted due to a lack of refrigerated and frozen logistics. This adds to the overall statistic that 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food is thrown away every year – a third of global food production for human consumption.

Some regions are worse off than others. In Pakistan in 2022, for example, half of exportable mangoes were lost due to an extreme heatwave. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, two billion people suffer from food insecurity.

“Cold chains are critical infrastructure, vital for a well-functioning society and economy,” said Birmingham University Professor and Director for the Centre for Sustainable Cooling, Toby Peters.

“They underpin our access to safe and nutritious food and health as well as our ability to spur economic growth.”

Climate change-driven events such as droughts and floods can reduce crop yields and harm livestock productivity but freezing food can protect food sources and their nutritional value for months amid such crises.

“Cutting cold chain emissions and transforming how food is safely stored and moved today helps ensure we can keep sustainably feeding communities as populations and global temperatures rise, protecting nutritious food sources for years to come,” said Peters. “DP World’s coalition can be a key tool for overcoming today’s food challenges too, providing a stable inventory of quality food for the 820 million starving people worldwide and security for another two billion who are  struggling with food scarcity.

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