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Optimizing Food Storage Systems for Quality, Safety and Energy Efficiency

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Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Project Description: 

The food industry in the United States is a major consumer of energy, with the majority of energy consumption related to food handling and storage. Many Americans experience food insecurity and depend on food banks, which must attempt to minimize food spoilage and expenses. Energy costs are a major expense for food banks, so reductions in energy use are critical to increasing the availability of food for the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, local small-farms, particularly in New England, are a potential growth area for local economies and the ability to store produce, particularly in winter is critical to expanding their marketshare and economic viability. Effective, energy efficient food storage and handling procedures and facilities will enable season extension and increase farm incomes. Food banks are among the major customers for local producers, so energy efficiency and cost reduction for the entire local food system and have synergistic benefits for both types of enterprise. A process map integrating energy and food handling audits will enable researchers to identify key nodes for effective energy efficiency and food safety interventions. Perhaps the largest energy consumer in the system is refrigeration. In New England outside air can be used for portions of the winter months, but outside air could be used to displace conventional compression refrigeration for much longer periods if coupled with evaporative cooling which can provide high humidity low temperature conditions that reduce spoilage for most produce. By evaluating this technological innovation in the context of the local post-harvest food system we can optimize energy efficiency and food safety. Findings will be distilled into best practice guides, interactive process mapping web tools, and the dissemination of novel food temperature monitoring protocols and evaporative refrigeration engineering designs and controls, through workshops and publications.

Energy topics: 
Energy Efficiency
Environmental Conservation topics: 
Energy