Food Preservation, Storage and climate change

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year, which is one-third of all food produced for human consumption. Typically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 83 per cent of food is lost during production, handling/storage and processing, while just 5 per cent is wasted by consumers. Hence, the amount of global food lost or wasted is more than enough to feed all the hungry people in the world – about four times over. However, food is preserved by treating and handling food in such a way as to greatly stop or slow down spoilage and prevent food borne illness while maintaining nutritional value, flavour and texture. Thus, increasing supply by making seasonal food available throughout the year, adding variety to the diet and invariably improve the nutrition of the population, thereby decreasing nutritional inadequacies. Several preservation methods: drying, canning, refrigerating and freezing, irradiation, high-pressure processing of food and pulsed electric field electroporation are employed.


Interestingly, food preservation is inseparable from where the food is stored as storage is done in a suitable environment. However, stored foods are susceptible to environmental conditions that can lead to spoilage via microbial proliferation or physical and chemical processes. Evidence suggests that climate change which is long-term changes in average weather conditions is influencing a wide range of the quality of stored grain which can either be considered direct or indirect. Direct effects include the role of climate change on the growth and developmental cycle of biotic components such as insect pests through overwintering, changes in growth rates of insect pests and changes in interspecific interactions. While indirect effects include the effect of rising global temperatures on grain drying conditions, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events and other post-harvest unit operations that would ultimately affect stored grain quality.


Furthermore, identifying, understanding and preparing for the impacts of climate change further highlight the need to promote interdisciplinary approaches to addressing challenges affecting food preservation/storage capacity building to developing countries. Predictive modelling and further research should also be geared towards curbing the effects of global climate change on stored food grain particularly as it relates to ecological systems and emerging hazards. However, due to the complexity of the system, predictions depend on the quality and quantity of available data. Thus, the need for international collaboration to develop good models. Although coordination among international organizations providing technical assistance in this area remains a fundamental issue, challenges raised by climate-related changes highlight the need for continued emphasis on acclimatization, adaptation and mitigation strategies.