Food Waste

Food losses without the cold chain

The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) in the 6th IIR Informatory Note on The Role of Refrigeration in Worldwide Nutrition states that
The deployment of an efficient cold chain is essential for global food security”

An update of previous versions published by the IIR in November 1996 and June 2009, this Note aims to emphasise the importance of refrigeration by proving that a more efficient cold chain can significantly reduce food losses and thus improve food safety and security in a sustainable way.

In this respect, the Note provides a series of recommendations with the aim of supporting efforts at national and international levels to implement appropriate measures in order to fulfil global commitments.  Some key figures:

  • over 13% of all food is lost due to a lack of refrigeration
  • an improved cold chain could feed 950 million inhabitants per year
  • more than 1,600 million tons of food are lost and wasted every year
  • 63% of all food losses come from developing countries.

Temperature management is one of the most important factors affecting the quality of fresh produce. There is an optimum storage temperature for all products. This implies a number of steps where refrigeration is essential, by which the harvested or picked material will be: Harvested while it’s cool or Cooled in the field.

Transported to the pack house where they are regularly cooled: The longer a fresh vegetable is exposed to heat after it is cut, the more bacteria and excess moisture take their toll on quality. Quickly cooling stops bacteria growth and ensures freshness. Most storage rooms do not have the refrigeration capacity needed for rapid cooling. Therefore, precooling must be a separate operation using special equipment.

Fresh foods continue to metabolize and consume their nutrients throughout their shelf life, from harvest or slaughter through packing, distribution, marketing and sale. Carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients are broken down into simpler compounds often resulting in reduced quality or quantity of the foods, through respiration, enzymatic breakdown and microbial degradation. All of these processes are highly dependent upon temperature [1].

The cold chain includes fresh tropical produce (at 12 to 18°C), chilled fresh produce and food products (at 0 to 4°C), or frozen food products (at -18°C). Reliable temperature control is required during storage and distribution.

[1] Use of cold chains for reducing food losses in developing countries, PEF White Paper No. 13-03 Lisa Kitinoja The Postharvest Education Foundation (PEF) December 2013.