EC report on food storage, fridges and food waste published

As part of a review for the European Commission, Oakdene Hollins has collaborated with VHK to report on optimal food storage conditions in refrigeration appliances to reduce household food waste. The report is now available online.

As part of a preparatory study for the European Commission on Regulation (EC) No. 643/2009 and Delegated Regulation (EU) No. 1060/2010 (Ecodesign requirements for household fridges), VHK and Oakdene Hollins have produced a report for the EC on Optimal food storage conditions in refrigeration appliances. The full report is available here.

VHK's initial, preparatory study on the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling of household fridges identified opportunities where fridges can make a valuable contribution to reducing household food waste, which is an important part of the European Commission's 'Circular Economy' package. The present, complementary study explores the size of the problem, and looks at optimal storage conditions for prolonged food shelf-life, the balance between avoiding food waste through better refrigeration, and the possible increase of energy use in fridges. The present report also outlines possible policy measures that could help achieve an appropriate balance between the two.

The study aims to provide EC policymakers with a comprehensive overview of EU food flows, as a starting point for a food conservation strategy, and to lay a sound basis for further analysis by policymakers.

Household fridges play a major role in preventing domestic food spoilage, and could possibly contribute to better household planning, through design improvements. Currently, over 85% of domestic fridges have a single fresh food compartment at a temperature of +4°C. For about half of the fresh food (and drinks) bought by households, this is temperature is either too warm or too cold for best fresh food preservation. The presence of a chiller and a 'cellar' compartment could increase food shelf-life by a factor of three or even four - or as high as x20 for some meat products. However, such fridges could consume at least 20% more electricity than today's reference domestic fridge. But today's average fridge is - even taking into account peak usage - at least two times oversized. On average, the contents occupy only a quarter of the available refrigerated space. The existence of several different compartments within a fridge, at different temperatures, creates new energy saving opportunities, e.g. from cascading and re-using 'waste cold' from defrosting. Such changes to fridge design have the potential to save up to 2% of end-use food waste, which would fully compensate for the higher energy usage of such fridges. There is a good case for multi-door fridges, which could be reflected in EU Ecodesign and Energy Labelling requirements.

Avoidable food waste is often blamed on the setting of 'use-by' dates based on a worst-case scenario. The present report also recommends harmonisation at EU-level of (parts of) setting 'use-by' dates. For instance, use-by dates could differentiate between storage at +4°C (normal fridge temperature) and -1°C.

The report also recommends consumer engagement campaigns, to raise public awareness. When linked to the proper use of the (relatively new) cold storage facilities within fridges, and the benefits of not only less food waste, but also healthier and tastier food, it is believed that such campaigns could be more successful than more general campaigns to change wasteful consumer behaviour.

Click on the link below to download the full report.

Simon Strick