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Frozen in time?

The global discussion on revising the standard minimum temperature for frozen food storage and transportation is gaining momentum. In this Q&A with the Cold Chain Federation's Tom Southall, we shed light on why this shift is necessary, its potential environmental benefits, and the steps being taken to implement this change.

FIT: Why is the standard temperature set point for frozen food now under discussion?
TS: A conversation has been building about whether there is potential to review the current temperature set point of -18°C for storing and transporting frozen food. This -18°C set point was chosen 100 years ago, most likely because it equates to a round °0 in Fahrenheit, and it has simply never been updated since. However, the cold chain and its ability to manage and monitor temperatures has progressed enormously in this time, and new research is suggesting the standard set point could be raised now to dramatically improve energy efficiency without compromising safety or quality.

One of the prompts for this conversation is the drive towards Net Zero and the resulting laser focus on energy efficiency throughout temperature-controlled logistics. In the UK this focus has been reinforced further by the recent volatility in UK energy prices. Cold chain operators and their supply chain partners are analysing in fine detail exactly where, how and why energy is being used, and the potential to review the frozen set point is part of this analysis.

FIT: Why is the cold chain exploring a frozen set point change?
TS: Updating the standard set point for storing and transporting frozen food could enable a very significant reduction in energy consumption across the entire frozen food supply chain, from point of manufacturer to point of purchase. Eliminating unnecessary over-chilling would reduce energy demand, cut the food supply chain’s carbon footprint, represent a leap forward on the journey towards net zero, and deliver important cost savings.

Industry led research is making a strong case for revisiting the set point, and international collaboration on this subject is gaining momentum. This is the right time to explore change and the Cold Chain Federation (CCF) has put a programme of work in place to help turn this opportunity for an updated standard set point into reality in the UK for our members and their customers.

FIT: Do we know the scale of the opportunity?
TS: Raising the set point for frozen food storage and distribution could deliver a very substantial improvement on emissions. A recent study by Nomad Foods found that, over twelve months, a 3°C increase in frozen food storage temperatures could reduce freezer energy consumption by over 10% with no need to reformulate product.

The ‘Three Degrees of Change’ report revealed at COP28 in November 2023 calculated that changing frozen food temperatures from -18°C to -15°C could cut global carbon emissions by 17.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. And with energy costs having risen so high in the UK, this significant reduction in energy consumption would mean substantial savings on cold store operating costs.

Energy efficiency improvements of this level through other measures currently widely available in the frozen food supply chain would be incredibly hard won and require huge investment into new systems, processes, skills and emerging technologies.

FIT: Are there challenges to changing the frozen set point?
TS: This is certainly an exciting opportunity, but it is also a complex issue. Studies undertaken so far are a good start but further research is required and a consensus will be needed not just among the global cold chain community but between policy makers, food standards agencies, manufacturers, and retailers too. If agreed, implementing a change at an international level could require updates to many different standards, guidelines and accreditation schemes. This may be more straightforward in the UK, where research indicates that the only requirement for -18°C is for ‘quick frozen’ food, a regulation which does not apply to most of the market.

The challenges relate to enacting change in practice, rather than opposition to the principal, suitability or advantages of modernising the frozen food temperature set point. I don’t believe that these challenges are insurmountable and the potential benefits, both economic and environmental, are certainly worth pursuing.

FIT: What is the UK cold chain’s sentiment on the potential for change?
TS: The UK cold chain is at the forefront of temperature-controlled logistics and our members are leaders in effectiveness, sustainability and innovation. The relationships, technologies and processes that a collaborative move to -15°C would require are all securely in place. The dialogue at the Cold Chain Climate Summit that the CCF held in March 2024 confirmed that the UK cold chain is up for the challenge, with more than 200 temperature-controlled logistics leaders discussing the path forward to move to -15°C with positivity and conviction.

I believe the UK can lead the way globally in turning this exciting ambition into normal working practice. The CCF is working to facilitate progress towards this ambition for our members, bringing them together with manufacturers, retailers and regulators to identify and put into motion the next steps. We have also put the proposed change to politicians of all parties hoping to form the next UK Government following the 2024 General Election, asking for their support as the food supply chain continues to explore this approach.

FIT: What progress has been made to date?
TS: Since the conversation about reviewing the frozen set point began picking up momentum over the past two years, some really significant progress has been made. Reviewing the frozen set point needs to be an international movement, and it has succeeded in developing as a global conversation.

The key ‘Three Degrees of Change’ report published in November at the United Nation’s COP28 conference in Dubai was delivered by an international team of scientists, and cold chain representatives from across the globe are involved in discussions with each other as well as within their own nations. Building on COP28, the ‘Move to -15°C’ initiative, led by DP World, is designed to bring global logistics leaders together to bring about the change from -18°C to -15°C throughout the world.

Understanding the full impacts of making this change is crucial, and earlier in 2024 Nomad Foods reported the results from its major study into the potential to increase the temperature that frozen food is stored at on a large scale, without reformulating products.

Conducted by Campden BRI, the study tested a range of frozen products including poultry, fish, vegetables, pizza and other foodstuffs across 9,000 data points. The products were tested at different temperatures for impacts on key areas including microbiological; sensory; texture; oxidative rancidity; drip loss; nutrition; energy usage; and packaging. The 12-month findings demonstrated that moving from -18°C to -15°C showed no negative impacts on any of those areas. The research continues but this is a crucial step forwards.

Looking at the UK specifically, the CCF published a report in March 2024 called ‘Increasing Temperature Set Points for Frozen Food to Cut Emissions Across the UK Cold Chain’. This report details key actions needed for progress towards changing the set point in practice in the UK, including a full review of UK legislative barriers, an analysis of individual product type challenges, and an assessment of the temperature-controlled supply chain to ensure the whole cold chain can safely adapt without increasing food wastage or creating any other unintended impacts.

FIT: What are the next steps in putting a frozen set point change into practice?
TS: Both in the UK and at a global level, the frozen food supply chain is on the right collaborative path to deliver the substantial environmental and economic benefits of moving from -18°C to -15°C. The next steps include further research into the relationship between changing the frozen set point and any impacts on food safety, security and waste; and detailed research into how cold chain operators could operate with lower tolerance. In the UK, most cold stores and vehicles operate at -20°C to -25°C to build in tolerance; further research should ascertain to what temperature we could viably change, identify risk areas and how could they be mitigated, and consider the processes and technologies that would be required.

Over the coming months, CCF will continue to work directly with our members and government officials to set out the practicalities for the cold chain of raising frozen temperature set points, including identifying risk points and collaborating with the wider frozen food sector to find solutions.

We will also share the findings of our new online survey (launched at our Cold Chain Climate Summit in March 2024) to ensure the views and expertise of the many temperature-controlled logistics experts within the CCF’s membership are harnessed and taken into account as we drive forward this movement for change.
We will continue to support and collaborate with businesses, academic researchers and groups who are similarly working towards this change, such as the global ‘Join the Move to -15°C’ initiative, and we will ensure the UK cold chain is factored into relevant research and activities. As ever, we will be the UK cold chain’s voice advocating for this change in Westminster and Whitehall.

The latest reports, updates and information about CCF activity on this project, and news from other relevant parties in the UK and globally, can be found at

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