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Experts propose minor alteration to temperature dials within fridges — how one small change could deliver major benefits

The current international freezing standard for food is -18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit).

The current international freezing standard for food is -18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit).

Photo Credit: iStock

Think about how a tiny twist of a knob on your heater can change the whole feel of your room. Well, according to a new report, bumping up the standard freezing temperature by just a mere 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), could make a huge difference for the planet.

Freezing food is crucial for global food security, preventing massive amounts of produce from going to waste each year. Yet, the energy-intensive nature of cold chains presents a significant paradox: while freezing food reduces pollution by preventing spoilage, the energy required for freezing contributes to pollution.

The current international freezing standard for food is -18 C (-0.4 F). However, according to experts, this temperature is not set by food safety requirements, Anthropocene Magazine reported.

"Food safety is not an issue from the moment food is stored below -12 C (10.4 F), as all microbial growth is inactivated," said Yosr Allouche, one of the authors of the report. 

Meanwhile, the report notes that for every degree decrease below -12 C [10.4 F], energy consumption increases by 2-3%. By increasing the standard from -18 C to -15 C (5 F), experts estimate that the industry could avoid pollution equivalent to that produced by 4 million cars annually.

While such a shift would require significant adjustments in global supply chain infrastructure and practices, preliminary studies indicate that many food items can maintain their quality at -15 C (5 F) for extended periods. Further research is needed to fully understand the implications on food quality and safety, so large-scale changes will not be made for a while, per Anthropocene.

In the meantime, there are other more eco-friendly ways individuals can use to store food and reduce food waste

For example, one simple and effective method is to store certain produce items, like carrots and celery, submerged in water. This can help maintain their crispness and freshness for a longer period. Another cool trick is to use a paper bag to store potatoes. This can help keep the potatoes from sprouting too quickly. The paper bag allows the potatoes to breathe and better regulate moisture, which is key to preventing sprouts. 

As a full research study is slated for publication in September 2024, the conversation around adjusting freezing temperatures is likely to intensify. Already, industry leaders are discussing how they can support the shift to a greener standard.

"Through this research, we can see how we can deploy accessible storage technologies in all markets to freeze food at sustainable temperatures, while reducing food scarcity for vulnerable and developed communities," said Maha AlQattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer at DP World, in a statement about the report.

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