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Frozen Foods Could Help Reduce CO2 Levels

29 September 2012

A new scientific report on carbon emissions produced for teh British Frozen Food Federation has overturned the belief that frozen food is more energy intensive than chilled.

Assessing a range of carbon emissions - from post-harvest or slaughter to consumption by the consumer – researchers found that a frozen meal for a family of four produced five per cent less CO2 than its identical chilled counterpart.

As a result of this, researchers believe that frozen could contribute towards reducing the CO2 output of the food industry in the future.

Conducted by Refrigeration Developments and Testing Ltd. based in Bristol, the Carbon Emissions from Chilled and Frozen Cold Chains report, calculated the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) for a typical UK Sunday roast meal for four people.

An analysis of the emissions from chicken, peas, carrots, and roast potato ‘cold chains’ from over 40 academic papers was carried out, comparing the energy sources.

In the assessment the emissions from post harvest or slaughter to consumption by the consumer were considered for:

  • Energy used to refrigerate the products.
  • Energy used for frying/roasting of the potatoes and for blanching of the frozen vegetables.
  • Energy used to bring the products from the supermarket to the consumers’ homes.
  • Refrigerant emissions from the refrigeration systems throughout the cold chains.
  • Emissions associated with waste throughout the cold chains.

Only food produced in the UK was considered. This was due to the fact that the UK produces and supplies a large proportion of the foods considered in the study.

Data were collected from a range of sources, mainly peer reviewed publications, reports and research publications, but some information was obtained from other researchers and companies. Sources of data are referenced throughout the work.

An analysis of the emissions from the chicken, pea, carrot and potato cold chains was carried out. At each stage of these cold chains, the product which would typically be wasted was estimated and the weight of product at each stage which would be required to obtain the final meal weight was determined. A summary of the overall emissions are shown in Table 1.

The overall emissions from individual products are shown in Figure 1. The greatest emissions from the products considered were from potatoes followed by chicken. This was primarily due to the greater weight of these products in the meal (200 g per portion for potatoes and 125 g per portion for chicken). The emissions from carrots were slightly higher than from peas due to the greater waste from carrots.

The major differences in emissions between the frozen and chilled cold chains were due to differences in the energy used (which was less for chilled food) and the food waste (which was less for frozen). As waste was a significant factor in the emissions from frozen food, and the information available on waste from frozen foods was not extensive, it would be beneficial to obtain more detailed information on waste from frozen products.

Emissions from all sources considered in the study calculated that a chilled meal for four persons was equivalent to 6.546kg CO2e compared to a frozen meal for four at only 6.329kg CO2e.

Across all of food types tested, all but one frozen products had lower CO2e than their chilled counterpart.

Table 1. Emissions from a Meal for 4
Chilled meal for 4 persons (kg CO2e) Frozen meal for 4 persons (kg CO2e)
Emissions from all sources considered in the study 6.546 6.329
Emissions from energy (indirect) 2.982 4.239
Emissions from refrigerant emissions (direct) 0.076 0.131
Emissions from waste 3.488 1.960


Figure 1. Overall Emissions from Products Considered

Author Judith Evans, Fellow of the Institute of Refrigeration and lead researcher on the study said: “This report goes some way to debunking the commonly held assumption that producing, storing and consuming frozen food is more energy intensive than chilled products.

"A thorough and rigorous review of the scientific evidence found, within the boundaries considered, frozen to be less CO2 intensive - especially when considering carbon dioxide produced from waste.”

Brian Young, director General of British Frozen Food Federation said: “For a long time frozen has been seen as a ‘poor relation’ to chilled in terms of quality, nutrition and environmental friendliness. Misconceptions around quality and nutritional have recently been overturned - and this ‘world first’ CO2 report substantiates the fact that frozen compares favourably to chilled in its ‘green’ credentials.”

‘Love Food Hate Waste’ highlights that freezers are a great way for consumers make the most of food and waste less. The general public can find out more about how to get the best from their freezer at www.LoveFoodHateWaste.com.

The Carbon Emissions from Chilled and Frozen Cold Chains report was commissioned by the British Frozen Food Federation.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.
September 2012

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