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The race to solve the CO2 crisis

A shortage of carbon dioxide for manufacturing processes has caused havoc in the food and drink sector, from beer producers to crumpet makers.

CO2 is used throughout the food and drink industry. It puts the fizz into drinks, extends the life of packaged foods, is needed for ‘dry ice’ to keep food chilled during transit and is even used to stun animals before slaughter in abattoirs.

Most CO2 for commercial use is created as a by-product from ammonia production for fertilisers.

However, there has been a chronic shortage due to a combination of larger plants being closed for routine maintenance, fertiliser production being scaled back during the summer and higher demand for CO2-dependent products due to extended good weather.

Companies big and small have been affected. For example, bakery giant Warburton’s had to temporarily halt production of crumpets at its factory in Burnley, while Salford micro brewery First Chop warned that it may have to pour 12,000 litres of beer down the drain.

It is hoped that supply will begin to return to normal in July, but some companies are already exploring options to reduce risk in the future, such as changing packaging methods.

Campden BRI, a food industry consultancy, has launched a project to help manufacturers of modified atmosphere packed (MAP) foods understand how reducing CO2 concentrations could affect the shelf life of their products.

Dr Roy Betts, head of microbiology at Campden BRI, said:

“There is very little information available on the effects of reducing or eliminating the packing gas CO2 on the shelf life of food.

“Manufacturers have either had to continue using the concentration of CO2 needed for their established shelf life with the risk of running out, or reduce or eliminate CO2 and estimate the effect of this on shelf life.”

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