KAWARTHA LAKES-A Toronto research project found that raising freezer temperatures in commercial food establishments by just three degrees will result in electricity savings of over 10% for Ontario businesses without impacting food safety. It also found that storing food at minus 15°C for short periods of time, compared to the current standard of minus 18°C, will not impact the quality of the frozen food.
As a result of this work, efforts by the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association (ORHMA), and analysis by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, the standard temperature set-point of commercial freezers is being eliminated in a new Ontario regulation, to be enacted on July 1st, 2018. The new regulation will require that food establishments only keep food in a “frozen state,” giving business owners more flexibility on the temperature their frozen food can be stored at.
“This is an important decision by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care”, said James Alden, leader in the energy efficiency sector and developer of this project. “Frozen is frozen, and there is no public health risk to warming standard freezer temperatures slightly. For Ontario, this decision will support efforts on climate change, and if adopted more broadly on a global basis, will have a major impact on reducing the electricity use of the over 1.5 billion commercial freezers worldwide.”
In Ontario, the minus 18°C standard was set in the early 1960s, when modern food handling codes were originally developed in the United States. Until now, the Ontario food premises act had not been modified since 1967.
The research was conducted with funding from the Conservation Fund of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), and with support from organizations including Toronto Hydro, Toronto Public Health, and the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association.
In 2017, the study monitored the internal freezer temperature and energy consumption over an 8-week period in 30 commercial freezers across the city of Toronto. The internal temperatures of the freezers were adjusted from minus 18°C to minus 15°C halfway through each phase. The chosen freezers varied in size and use, from small chest freezers used for long-term storage to large walk-in freezers used regularly in restaurants. The average unweighted energy savings was 10 percent per freezer. This change will significantly save on energy use in Ontario and reduce refrigeration costs for business owners according to the restaurant association.
To rule out any issues with food safety, experts from NSF International conducted a detailed review of literature on time/temperature tolerance studies, finding that the proposed temperature adjustment should not be considered a safety concern, and that food quality is only impacted by longer storage periods at warmer temperatures.
Two surveys were also undertaken. The first was completed by companies that operate along the frozen food cold chain, and found considerable support for raising the freezer temperature set-point to minus 15°C. The other survey was issued to business owners whose freezers had been used for the in-field research. None of them reported any impact on the quality of their frozen food, or had any concerns about raising the freezer temperature to minus 15°C, given the short period of time they store food. Freezers that store ice cream were not included in the study, as warmer temperatures can impact the taste and texture of ice cream.
Based on these results, the study recommended that Ontario consider adjusting the commercial freezer temperature set-point to minus 15°C or higher for food establishments. These findings can also be used as a basis for other jurisdictions to re-examine their own freezer set-point standards.