Food safety could suffer as part of the problems caused by rising energy prices, according to several European and British industry groups.

Freshfel, the European Fresh Produce Association, warned that product freshness, quality, and safety may be at risk without proper temperature-controlled storage and microbiological contamination will be heightened if cold chains are cut.

Some fresh produce operators are facing electricity bills up to 10 times higher than the previous year, said the group.

Outdoor production requires electricity for irrigation, indoor operations need temperature management and appropriate lighting. Packing and storage sites must have certain levels of cooling and temperature controlled atmosphere, as do ripening facilities. 

Prices are going up for reasons varying from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to a recovery in demand following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU agri-food supply chain is being heavily impacted by increases in energy costs, according to FoodDrinkEurope, which represents the EU food and drink sector.

To avoid food spoilage from high refrigeration costs, some EU farmers have turned to new ways to store, involving shorter, smarter cooling systems followed by quicker trade with buyers.

Processors have been switching from natural gas to alternative energy sources, where possible, and, for some agricultural raw materials, are starting the production campaign earlier to reduce energy use during the peak demand months of January and February.

However, given many agri-food operators work on a 24/7 basis, reducing energy consumption in peak hours would not result in absolute energy savings and could lead to disrupted food and drink production, said FoodDrinkEurope.

UK viewpoint

Recent surveys by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) found potentially risky changes in how consumers were buying and preparing food to save money.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said many of its members in the United Kingdom are facing 400 to 500 percent rises in their energy bills.

This past month, a group of Members of Parliament held a session looking at the impact of the energy crisis on the food and drink supply chain.

In September, the Cold Chain Federation published an action plan to help temperature-controlled storage and distribution businesses 

Tim Moran, Cold Chain Federation president, said: “Keeping food cold is energy intensive in its very nature, and the cost of electricity for cold storage has at least doubled already and is going higher. Add the cost of diesel, wages and equipment and across both the storage and the distribution of fresh and frozen food, our industry is experiencing increases far beyond what we can absorb.” 

Minette Batters, NFU president, said the UK government should prioritize access to affordable energy for food production and the supply chain.

“Energy plays a core role in the production of our food and throughout the food supply chain, from fertilizer production and heating glasshouses and livestock buildings, to baking bread and keeping facilities clean,” she said.

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