Frozen food usage can help meet government targets on food security, Cranfield research shows

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A major new report from sustainability experts at Cranfield University has shown that increasing the production and consumption of frozen food in the UK can play a significant role in delivering the UK government’s 2020 and 2050 food security targets.

Researchers at the leading university assessed a range of factors, such as waste reduction, increasing production, providing affordable nutrition and reducing the environmental impact of food production. They concluded that frozen food already contributes to food security in the UK and expanding its use could contribute significantly more.

The Frozen Food and Food Security in the UK report, calculated greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), consumer cost and waste production for four of the most common shopping list items – cod, carrots, broccoli and potatoes – and compared typical fresh and frozen supply chains throughout the year. Key findings included:

  • Increasing frozen food can significantly reduce edible food waste in the supply chain and lessen the impact of that food waste
  • Researchers found that any waste produced in frozen production occurred higher in the supply chain where it has less impact due to reuse and recycling options compared to fresh products wasted in the home, which  often ends up in landfill
  • Researchers identified a potential waste saving of between 25% and 79% if the entire supply chain for these four products was shifted to frozen
  • Frozen products are typically less expensive than their fresh equivalents making fish and vegetable products, which can enhance dietary health, more accessible to low budget households
  • Frozen Atlantic cod and broccoli florets were 32% and 33% less expensive than their fresh counterparts respectively
  • Frozen food can significantly reduce GHGE production for foodstuffs not produced in the UK year round
  • By increasing the use of frozen broccoli, the UK could be 100% self-sufficient in production reducing GHGE production by 15%
  • Fresh Atlantic cod produces at least 50% more CO2e than frozen because the extended shelf life offered by frozen food enables more efficient transportation methods.
  • Dr Adrian Williams, principal research fellow at Cranfield University’s School of Energy, Environment and Agri-food said: “The report brings together a wealth of research which shows that there are improvements that can be made by making better use of freezing technologies in the food chain. This has particular benefits in reducing the impact of food waste and enabling sustainable transportation of food imported into the UK.”

Brian Young, chief executive of British Frozen Food Federation, said: “Food security is becoming increasingly prominent on the government’s agenda. As the population increases the food industry must take an active role in helping to meet the growing demand for nutritional, affordable food without impacting on the environment.

“As this research clearly shows, embracing a wide variety of frozen food can help us to achieve the goals set out by the government in its food security strategy in a sustainable way.”

Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched its report into the food security issue. At the launch Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said: “Complacency is a genuine risk to future UK food security. If we want our food production and supply systems to be secure, Government and food producers must plan to meet the impacts of climate change, population growth and increasing global demand for food.”

Young added: “The research supports our belief that increasing the production and the use of frozen food in the UK can help to counter these impacts and enable a more sustainable and secure food supply in the UK in the future.”