Have you heard of the new technology for keeping salmon fresh for a whole month? It is known as superchilling and is providing useful help for organic food producers to conserve food longer.
Superchilling involves cooling the salmon to about minus 2.5 degrees Celsius - to just below the temperature at which it begins to freeze. At minus 2.5 degrees below zero, the fish is not completely frozen, still retains its quality of freshness, and will not be perceived or experienced as a thawed frozen foodstuff.
- Fish keep their fresh quality longer - as much as a month.
- This means lower CO2 emissions.
- Less food is discarded because the shelf life can be as long as 30 days.
This new method will be tested on ecological salmon and meat and the hope is that it will make a difference to the shopping habits of purpose-driven food consumers. This technology is not widely used by conventional food producers because supermarket chains tend to prioritize the cheapest and simplest methods of chilling. Another challenge concerns how to put an exact sell-by date on superchilled food, because this will depend on the ability of the ice to keep the temperature constant.
The underlying thinking is that people who buy ecological food are more concerned about the environment and thus are more aware of emissions and resource utilization than those who buy ordinary raw materials, says Michael Bantle, SINTEF project manager. "These small companies don't have the resources to develop and demonstrate the potential of superchilling so that superchilled food can start to be accepted by consumers. This makes it a rather idealistic project.
"The initiative is very positive," Bantle continued. "We already know that superchilling is an efficient method, and if we can demonstrate that if it can increase the shelf-life of organic produced foods as well as it does for conventional foodstuffs, we believe that there will be a market for superchilled products. We hope and believe that consumers who buy organic foods are more concerned about conserving resources than the average consumer. If we can manage our food better, we can also produce less even as we supply more markets."
SINTEFs plans are to test the method on Norwegian ecological raw materials and other products. It is estimated that every Norwegian throws out an average of a kilo of food a week. This situation is the same all over Europe and has inspired the European Union to look for solutions. If they can prolong the time during which the food is regarded as fresh this will help reduce the food waste.
This method test will be done as part of the European Union project SUS-Organic - aimed at helping smaller companies that produce organic food. For these companies it is important that their products can be given a longer shelf life without the need for chemicals. This method also enables them to even out seasonal variations and supply their customers year-round because many of them dont produce continually and need to warehouse more stock for longer periods of time.
It is also believed that this method will be profitable for the food stores as well because they can advertise superchilled organic food and as a mark of quality. By doing this they will be showing social responsibility for reduction in wasted food and a better environment.
The EU's regulations regarding what can be classified as fresh or frozen also need to be revised. Today, superchilled food is regarded as frozen rather than fresh, even if it is of identical quality to fresh food.
There are a number of explanations as to why superchilling has not yet been adopted by food retailers. One reason is the advantages they benefit from when customers throw out food: increased sales and demand. Another reason is that transport is simply too cheap today, which means that producers can pay to freight large quantities of ice. Today, fresh salmon are transported in boxes that contain about 30 percent ice. They are then sent southwards to Europe, and by air to countries such as Japan. This ice could be eliminated by superchilling the salmon, because in this state, the ice is inside the fish itself. The weight reduction reduces fuel consumption, which in turn means lower CO2 emissions.
"Is there anything to suggest that superchilling would not be suitable for organic salmon, for example? Bantle said. "No, but we know that among other things, organic salmon contain a higher proportion of marine lipids, which protect the body from cardiovascular disease, among other illnesses. They have also been fed less antibiotics and medicines. This may have some influence on how they respond to superchilling. What we are hoping is that there will not be any difference. If that turns out to be the case, we can be fairly certain that superchilling will be adopted. In the long run, this could lead to more producers wishing to employ this technology, so that it can also be used to a greater extent on foodstuffs that have been conventionally produced. Longer shelf-life simply offers environmental benefits irrespective of whether or not the food is organic. The supermarket chains ought to have invested more in cold-stores that are capable of keeping both fish and meat superchilled at quite stable temperatures. Unfortunately, this is not being done today because these chains prioritize the simplest and cheapest solutions. However, I hope that this method will contribute to the adoption of the technology."