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A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan reveals that nearly half of the food waste produced globally each year could be eliminated through fully refrigerated food supply chains. With approximately 800 million people suffering from hunger, optimizing cold chains could have a significant impact on reducing food waste while also cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 41% globally. Regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia have great potential for achieving reductions in both food losses and related emissions through increased implementation of cold chains.

The study shows that South and Southeast Asia could experience a 45% reduction in food losses and a 54% decrease in associated emissions under an optimized refrigeration scenario. Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, has tremendous opportunities for both food loss (47%) and emissions (66%) reductions under optimized refrigeration conditions. Additionally, the study indicates that developing localized, less industrialized “farm-to-table” food supply chains may also lead to significant food savings comparable to optimized cold chains.

According to the researchers, the study highlights the importance of addressing food losses in the post-harvest to retail stages of the food supply chain. They point out that food losses produce an estimated 8% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions but do not address losses on-farm or at-home. The study emphasizes that poor cold-chain infrastructure could be responsible for up to 620 million metric tons of global food loss annually, resulting in emissions of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

The researchers developed a food-loss estimation tool to assess the impact of improved access to the cold chain on food loss and associated greenhouse gas emissions for seven food types in seven regions. By modeling food losses at each stage of the supply chain, they were able to identify areas where the cold chain can be optimized to reduce both food losses and emissions. The study also compares the benefits of globalized, technologically advanced food-supply chains with localized “farm-to-table” food systems.

The U-M study was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and by Carrier Global Corp., a global leader in intelligent climate and energy solutions. The researchers hope that their adaptable tool will be useful for stakeholders in the food supply chain, such as farmers, grocery retailers, government officials, and non-governmental organizations. They emphasize that investment decisions will need to be prioritized to maximize desired outcomes and impacts, depending on whether the focus is on reducing food waste or greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, the study underscores the significant potential of implementing fully refrigerated food supply chains to reduce food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions globally. With a focus on optimizing cold chains in regions with the greatest need, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, the researchers hope to make progress towards addressing the pressing issues of food waste and hunger on a global scale.

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