Optimizing Cold Chains Could Halve Global Food Waste and Cut Emissions by 41%, Study Finds

A recent University of Michigan study reveals that nearly half of global food waste, approximately 620 million metric tons, could be prevented through fully refrigerated food supply chains, or “cold chains.” Published in Environmental Research Letters, the study highlights that cold chains could reduce food waste-related greenhouse gas emissions by 41% globally.

Significant reductions are possible in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, where optimized refrigeration could decrease food losses by 47% and 45%, respectively, and cut emissions by 66% and 54%. Lead author Aaron Friedman-Heiman, a master’s student at U-M, emphasized the substantial opportunity to reduce the annual 1.3 billion tons of food wasted through supply chain optimization.

Subscription Form

Co-authored by Professor Shelie Miller, the study focuses on post-harvest to retail food losses, excluding on-farm and at-home losses, and considers emissions from food production but not refrigeration. Funded partly by Carrier Global Corp., the study reveals that the greatest improvements can be achieved in less industrialized economies by optimizing the supply chain from farm to consumer. In contrast, in North America and Europe, most food loss occurs at the household level.

The research underscores the importance of reducing meat-related food losses due to the high greenhouse gas intensity of meat production. The study also found that localized “farm-to-table” systems resulted in lower food losses than optimized global cold chains, highlighting the value of supporting local food systems.

The researchers developed a food-loss estimation tool to assess the impact of improved cold chain access on food loss and emissions for seven food types across seven regions. Their analysis shows that optimized refrigeration infrastructure could reduce global food loss by up to 620 million metric tons annually, with emissions reductions equivalent to 28% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The study stresses the need for strategic investment decisions to maximize outcomes, with different priorities for hunger eradication and climate action. Overall, the research highlights the potential of cold chain optimization to significantly reduce global food waste and its environmental impact.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *