Refrigeration is Pretty Cool

Two of the most important things to consider when sourcing fresh food for your pantry is the temperature that is maintained on its journey from harvest to your fridge and the time that it has taken. I never really thought about this much until recently, but maximising refrigeration throughout this journey is actually an important part of delivering a high-quality product with maximised nutritional value in a manner that is environmentally friendly and budget conscious.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that food that has been refrigerated for the amount of time that it takes to get from the producer to the customer is fresher. Refrigeration helps to delay the natural biological processes that eventually lead to a deterioration in the quality of foods. Some of these processes are chemical reactions in the food that are slowed down at lower temperatures, but more often they are the result of the action of micro-organisms living in and munching on the food and gradually spoiling it, sometimes releasing very nasty toxins at the same time that can produce serious health problems such as salmonella poisoning. This is why it is dangerous to leave some foods at room temperature for very long, such as meats and fish.
 
With fruit and vegetables, it is less of a safety issue, and in fact, many fruit and some vegetables benefit from being left out of the fridge for a while to allow them to ripen a bit further and improve in flavour. Because it is generally easier to gauge with fruit and vegetables whether they are in good condition for eating, it is less a safety issue and more a matter of taste and convenience. One benefit of having these foods refrigerated up until you get them is that you have more control over the timing on when you eat them. The buyer has more freedom to plan when to use their food after they buy it because there is more time before the lettuce is going to wilt, or the zucchinis to be less than their best. Also, sometimes when I am buying a larger quantity of something that I want to ripen out of the fridge at home (like when stone fruit or tomatoes are at their peak and prices are good), I have more freedom to buy more and stagger the ripening by taking some out of the fridge every day or so in order to avoid having everything ripen at once and needing to cook and freeze the lot to avoid it going to waste instead of being able to eat it gradually, at its best. Also, the levels of some nutrients decrease markedly over time when food is stored above refrigeration temperatures, particularly in vegetables (whilst others increase, particularly in fruit, as the food reaches its peak ripeness).

So, the immediate benefits of this approach for the consumer are fairly straightforward - more freedom in when you use what you buy, fresher product when it arrives, and more power for the consumer to eat things at their best.

What has this got to do with the environment? Well, this aspect of the issue basically boils down to the avoidance of waste. Globally, approximately 25% of food that is harvested is wasted because of lack of refrigeration (www.iifiir.org). In developed countries like Australia, the average is 9%. This is still a lot, when we consider the resources we pour into producing our food including fertiliser, water, stock feed, fuel for maintenance and transport that we waste when we don't actually end up eating what we have produced. 9% of our food production wasted because food could have been stored a bit smarter (naturally there are complex factors that mean that food is stored in all kinds of ways, but part of avoiding waste in this way includes initiatives that maximise consumers' opportunities to get the most from the food they buy).

From a financial perspective, the primary benefits are that you have more control over when you get to eat your food and how much time you have to do that before it (and the money you spend on it) starts to risk being wasted. It also means that you can space your orders a little bit further apart which gives you the opportunity to minimise delivery charges.

Article by Elise Ruthenbeck