Is Frozen Food More Eco-Friendly? What the Research Says

The Case for Frozen Food

Going natural, organic, and all-around "green"? When you're making the more intentional change, it's a given that you have these lovely images of fresh produce filling the kitchen.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko from Pexels

But what if we told you that fresh doesn't necessarily mean good for the environment? You may be aghast if we say that frozen food is more eco-friendly. Frozen food may not be as nice and shiny as fresh produce, but it's actually one of the simplest ways to curb the food waste we produce at home!

Of course, frozen food won't ever be as appealing as fresh produce, but it can help your zero waste, low-impact goals for sure. And one of the most significant ways to start this sustainable journey is to address food waste.

Sure, there's the ever-growing plastic problem. But food waste is a serious concern, too. In the US alone, as much as 30-40% of the entire food supply goes wasted! That's about 133 billion pounds of food - as food waste is prevalent in commercial and home settings.

Frozen Food More Eco-Friendly - What the Research Says

The sad reality is, food waste is the single largest material dumped in landfills. It's bigger than electronic waste and single-use plastic waste.

What's one solution against food waste? Enter: frozen food. The food industry is adamant that frozen food is the preferred choice.

Deep freeze products like seafood may not look so appealing, but experts like Marine food chef Barton Seaver considers frozen seafood "a major win for sustainability". Frozen food enables sellers and consumers to maintain the "pristine quality" of produce for a more extended time.

Let's take a look at some advantages and caveats when choosing frozen food over fresh ones.

Frozen food means less food waste at home

In a major study that surveyed 2,800 households in Austria, data suggests that both frozen food purchases and household freezing of fresh food helped decrease food waste - in a big way.

The study defined frozen food in two ways: all frozen food supplies marketed via quick freezing, and all home-freeze food that consumers obtain fresh at the store.

Based on the surveys, participants wasted 9.3% of total fresh food, compared to just 1.6% of frozen food wasted. That means more than five times more food is scrapped when the households pick fresh food than if they buy comparable frozen food options!

The study notes that home freezing won't maintain the food's cell structure as effectively as flash freezing. It's less effective in preservation than quick freezing in industrial settings. Still, freezing meat and vegetables bought at the store can prolong shelf life significantly.

Frozen food is comparable to fresh food in nutrition content

Most people assume that frozen food is less natural, less nutritious, and inferior to those colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables. Not everyone knows that frozen can be just as healthy!

Photo from Pixabay

Research evidence is strong that freezing preserves nutrient value. Unless you have it picked and consumed right away, fresh produce tends to lose its vitamins and nutrients during storage - there could be 50% loss of important vitamins and antioxidants as fast as 24 to 48 hours.

Freezing can potentially lock in these components, making frozen produce comparable in nutrient content with fresh food. Flash-freezing food seldom needs added preservatives, save for sugar or ascorbic acid for fruits. You only need sterile airtight packs to separately freeze products, and a freezer that can keep the temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and below.

In fact, frozen food may contain higher levels of some nutrients - vitamin C is one! Tests show that frozen peas and spinach may have more vitamin C than supermarket produce sold in the fresh aisle. This is because fresh produce tends to be bought and stored at home for several more days. The longer the storage time for fresh produce, the more nutrients lost.

Freezing actually keeps the conditions of "clean label" in foods because of how much vitamins and nutrients are preserved.

Frozen food could curb carbon footprint

Even though frozen food uses energy, there are gains in how frozen food can cut down on hauling and shipping emissions.

Even though most people assume that frozen food uses energy heavily during storage and shipping, there's actually more emission from fresh produce. Or at least, how businesses answer the demand for foreign varieties. Sierra Club mentions that more than 50% of fruit and 30% of vegetables are now shipped from other nations! Shipping by air produces much of the world's carbon emissions, 42 times more than cargo by land.

In one UK study for instance, researchers compared chilled produce against frozen ingredients for a typical Sunday roast meal. The team analyzed emissions from chicken, peas, carrots, and potatoes. They found that the ingredients chilled in home refrigerators equated to 6.546 kg CO2 when it comes to total emissions. The number is slightly higher than total emissions from quick-freeze ingredients, at 6.329kg CO2.

The researchers concluded frozen food is less CO2 intensive when production, storage and food waste are considered. Food waste in homes is especially where the difference lies.

Frozen food is convenient and available all year

We, as food shoppers, tend to be tactile; we want to smell and feel the textures of produce. And most of us tend to associate fresh fruits and vegetables with "organic" and "homegrown," while frozen is more thought of as "inferior quality" and "sourced far away." It's just a pattern of consumption.

And while it will take more awareness and effective marketing to change these views, the fact remains that frozen food can be as good quality and tasty as the fresh options you buy at the grocery. Of course, nothing beats the produce you grow in your own backyard - that's legit freshly picked. But store bought produce tends to be in storage for weeks before being purchased.

Another advantage? Frozen food recipes tend to be easy to prepare and portion out. It lends itself well to avoiding food waste when cooking at home.

Naturally, there are more limited options when it comes to frozen food. You won’t have as beautiful an array of colorful vegetables and fruits as you will with fresh choices. Still, if you consider that these fresh ingredients carry a footprint when shipped from overseas, you’d want to at least consider sticking to frozen foods list available in your nearby store.

Frozen Food As An Eco-Friendly Option: The Takeaway

Frozen food has a big potential to make your kitchen more eco-friendly and lower impact. While it's not yet the go-to choice for everyone, it merits more consideration.

If you want low-impact, sustainable options for your meals, nothing beats finding local suppliers and farmers. Going in-season helps create a circular food economy that supports local businesses while at the same time reducing the carbon footprint required for food to travel to your plate.

But not all of us can live somewhere where local farmers are accessible. So if that's the case for you, we suggest going against your automatic habit of going for fresh produce. Maybe grab that frozen spinach and pack of berries next time you are in the grocery. The more frozen food you can work into your meals, the more healthy nutrients you can enjoy and the less impact on the environment.

Have any thoughts or questions about this article? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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