A new study suggests frozen fish is the more sustainable option
Frozen fish is less often wasted than fresh fish, and can furthermore be linked to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation process. Therefore, frozen fish not only competes with fresh fish on quality, but also on sustainability.
Frozen fish is rarely wasted
A study by Sheffield Hallam University concludes that 47 % less frozen food is wasted, compared to fresh food. A typical British household wastes 10.4 % of the fresh food and 5.9 % of the frozen food that it purchases. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with frozen food are therefore lower, since less energy goes into the production, packaging, etc. of the food that is wasted. The study furthermore examined different types of food waste, and found that frozen fish products are particularly rarely wasted, with only 6 % of the households ever throwing them away, compared to the 51 % of households throwing frozen food away in general. In contrast, 80 % of households throw away fresh dairy and vegetable products on a weekly basis.
Greenhouse gas emissions are further reduced in the frozen food supply chain, where waste is produced further up in the value chain than for fresh food. Therefore, this waste can be reused or recycled, rather than being sent to the landfill. At Royal Greenland, fillets that do not meet the quality standards of the company are made into bits and pieces that are used in the production of various ready meals, including mince and soups.
Depending on the food category, between 81 % and 92 % of edible food waste occurs in the frozen food supply chain before reaching the retailer. In the fresh food supply chain, for the same products only between 47 % and 72 % of waste arises prior to retail (source: Cranfield University).
Atlantic cod transported more sustainably
Another link between frozen fish and sustainability is drawn by Cranfield University. Their findings concerning selected food products suggest that fresh Atlantic cod is responsible for more CO2 emissions than frozen, even when the frozen cod is transported via China for processing. This is due to the extended shelf-life of frozen Atlantic cod, which enables more environmentally friendly transportation by road and sea, rather than air. As energy becomes more renewable, and technology improves refrigeration and transport, this reduction is likely to be increased further.
What about quality then?
Several scientific studies conclude that frozen fish products offer excellent quality, and often much better quality than fresh fish. When fish is frozen while it is completely fresh, it maintains its nutritional peak – optimally locking in the vitamins and minerals, whereas the quality of fresh fish gradually declines during its shelf-life. The bacteriological degradation process that influences the structure and texture of the fish is stopped on freezing. Tainted and malodorous fish products are thereby avoided, and the high quality is retained at its best. Frozen fish is also less price-sensitive to the seasons and availability, offering better value for money to customers.
Sheffield Hallam University: Martindale, W. (2014). "Using consumer surveys to determine food sustainability", British Food Journal 116(7).
Cranfield University: François, C. et al. (2014). "Frozen Food and Food Security in the UK".