The cold chain has an interesting story to tell. For when it works, it’s a powerful tool that benefits everyone along the global food supply chain.
My co-author, Eric Schultz and I had the opportunity to see this story in action. While researching Food Foolish, we got a view of the cold chain from the ground up at Turek Farms, the third largest vegetable farm in the state of New York and a top 10 grower nationally of sweet corn. The Tureks, like many farmers, face everything from national competition, uncertain growing conditions and even consumer mood swings. With so many uncertainties to profitable farming, so much investment at stake each season and increasing demand from retailers, the need to preserve healthy produce is critical.
That’s where the cold chain comes in. 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, then onto refrigerated trucks for its journey to consumers. If all goes well, an ear of Turek sweet corn won’t rise much above these temperatures until it reaches the grocery store, usually just 24 hours from the field, resulting in freshness and nutrition together. Frank tells it best. “Sweet corn quality can be lost overnight without refrigeration,” he says. “It’ll taste like cardboard.”
This demonstrates the tremendous benefits of a seamless, robust cold chain – for farmers like the Turek family who rely upon it to carry their prized crops, to the consumer who benefits from the fresh produce. And not to be forgotten is the cold chain’s impact on reducing food waste – which can help feed more people with measurable benefits to the environment.
In fact, new independent research has more closely defined these benefits. The Global Food Cold Chain Council, with support from United Technologies, commissioned modeling analysis to examine the greenhouse gas impact of expanding the cold chain to reduce food waste in developing countries. In all modeling scenarios, the decrease of the food loss and waste carbon footprint from cold chain expansion outbalanced the newly created emissions, by a factor of 10. If emerging economies adopted cold chain technologies to the level of developed countries, the carbon footprint of food waste due to a lack of refrigeration could be reduced by more than 50 percent.
The story of the cold chain is a fluid one. As it becomes more sustainable with energy-efficient technology, and expands to regions that need it most, we can reduce food waste, which means we can feed more people and reduce food waste’s expansive carbon footprint. This is a story worth telling!