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Combating CO2 shortages: Investigating alternative gas mixes to fight carbon dioxide dearth

September 11, 2022
Food & Drink

As the agri-food industry grapples with carbon dioxide shortages, scientists are investigating CO2 alternatives that could stand in for the gas and mitigate future supply chain shocks. From brewers to the soft drinks sector, pig farmers to retailers and packaging, the latest C02 shortage has a ripple effect around several sectors. It’s particularly poignant for shelf life and food preservation.

But now, Campden BRI has initiated a project to combat carbon dioxide scarcity and is seeking partners for alternative gas mix research.

The scientists are looking for poultry producers and retailers to join forces to comprehensively test alternative modified atmosphere gas blends.

Replacing carbon dioxide to avoid future shortages
Studies have been designed to provide information on the microbiological and sensory effects of the proposed mixes.

Campden BRI microbiologist Greg Jones is leading the project.

“The concept is a simple one: We will replace CO2 with gasses that can be achieved on standard production lines, such as nitrogen,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“The effects on shelf life will be measured from a sensory and microbiological perspective. All members of the project consortium will have access to the results as they are generated and will be able to act on them as they see fit,” he explains.

Alternatives must be achievable using standard production equipment, as this project is designed to address what would hopefully be a short-term crisis, Jones continues.

“The project will deliver a body of evidence which can be drawn on by the project partners to aid them in planning the supply of poultry to retailers. The intention is to be able to smooth the transition to a temporary situation where a different gas mix is used before supply is re-established.”

Testing shelf life
The company will test the shelf life and make the information available to the consortium.

Jones admits that although there is likely to be a reduction in shelf life when using a non-optimum gas mix, this need not be an issue.

“If that reduction is known in advance, then plans can be put in place to ensure a smoother transition to the new situation,” he adds.

Closure of major fertilizer plant
CF Fertilisers recently said that soaring natural gas prices meant it would have to “temporarily halt” activity at its UK ammonia plant, which creates CO2 as a byproduct.

Many in the food and beverage industry have been closely monitoring the closure. There are growing calls for longer-term interventions to help make the CO2 market more resilient and stable.

This isn’t the first time market conditions beyond the control of industry or government have led to the closure of fertilizer plants that supply food-grade carbon dioxide.

“Food products packaged in protective atmospheres, containing CO2, are at risk of a decrease in quality if there is another shortage. Having readily available information on the effects of changing the gas mix would be beneficial for these businesses,” says Jones.

“At the moment, supply is good. However, high natural gas prices are now a fact of life and have caused the closure of a major fertilizer plant, which supplies food-grade CO2,” Jones continues.

“Despite government assurances that interventions will occur to prevent supply shocks, there is nervousness within the industry regarding the reliability of supply. The risk will reduce when gas prices retreat. However, that seems a distant prospect at the moment,” he says.

Reflecting on CO2 shortages
Earlier this week, 2 Sisters Food Group owner Ranjit Singh Boparan warned that beleaguered UK shoppers will ultimately pay the price for the ongoing carbon dioxide shortage, with further price rises on the horizon.

As supply chain shocks are more commonplace, the 2 Sisters Food Group wants to be part of the project to build resilience by testing alternative gas mixes.

“The idea is to have a set of results that can be used to show the effect on the shelf life of changing to an achievable gas mixture in a time of crisis,” says Danica Hillson, technical director for UK Poultry at 2 Sisters Food Group.

“Having these results readily available will be extremely useful to demonstrate to our customers that although there may be a change to the shelf life of the product, we know what that change is and can plan accordingly. This project will be invaluable for addressing the risk to our business posed by another carbon dioxide shortage.”

Jones concludes that Campden BRI frequently works with international partners and would welcome all with interest in MAP poultry to this project.

The research will begin later this year.

By Gaynor Selby


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