GERMANY, Frankfurt. Sustainability is a catalyst for change and innovation in the meat industry. Political requirements and nutrition-conscious consumers are driving producers and manufacturers to act. The meat processing industry is responding to this with technological innovations, but also with fundamental corporate commitments.
The influence of meat consumption on the greenhouse effect is undisputed. In Germany alone, 42.7 mill. t of CO2 per year are attributable to meat consumption, in addition to water consumption of 60 trillion liters. The average water footprint per calorie is particularly high for beef, about twenty times higher than for cereals. It is estimated that switching to a diet, low in meat, could result in water savings of 11 to 35%.
The meat processing industry is one of the high energy-intensive sectors. Heating and cooling food requires large amounts of energy. Cold is needed to chill meat to ensure food safety, among other things. Heat is needed for cooking, steaming, simmering, sterilization and cleaning. In addition, there is water consumption for cleaning and disinfecting manufacturing facilities.
Of course, water must also be heated accordingly. As in many other industries, this is still largely done using fossil fuels. In addition to efforts to increase energy efficiency, switching to renewable energies - and thus reducing the carbon footprint - is therefore another lever for greater sustainability in the meat processing industry.
Energy-efficient refrigeration and heat pump solutions can improve energy efficiency in heating and cooling by up to 70%. Waste heat, which would otherwise be wasted, is reused and diverted to other processes such as water and brine heating, drying, cooking, blanching, pickling, pasteurizing, sterilizing, dehydrating and cleaning. To ensure a sustainable cold chain, compressor-based process cooling systems, among others, are used to provide thermally optimal production environments - not only for the food itself, but also for storage and distribution areas.
Savings can also be achieved through modern drive technology, such as servo motors. Energy-efficient, frequency-controlled drives achieve energy savings of up to 25%, and switch-on or switch-over current peaks are reduced. In addition, the motors are water-cooled and thus offer the possibility of direct use or recovery of waste heat.
Another step towards sustainability are machines with durable components and modern hygienic design, such as welded and rounded edges and recessed flush covers. They offer less contact surface for dirt and germs, and cleaning requires less water and energy. In addition, cleaning times are shortened by automatic cleaning-in-place (CIP) equipment.
With regard to food safety, the motto for water consumption is: "As much as necessary, as little as possible”. In order to reduce water consumption to a minimum, various options are to be considered, such as recycling wastewater in company-owned or municipal wastewater treatment plants. Innovative monitoring and measuring systems that analyze water consumption and identify parameters for further reduction are also of great help.
When it comes to renewable energies, solar thermal energy, heat pumps, biogas or biomass are suitable, since most processes require temperatures below 100 to 120 degrees. With cogeneration, electricity and heat can be efficiently provided from biogas or biomass from residual materials.
The EU is promoting efforts to improve energy management, for example through projects such as ICCEE ("improving cold chain energy efficiency"). The aim of the project is to improve the energy efficiency of the entire cold chain of the food and beverage sector for small and medium-sized companies. For various sectors such as meat or beverages, the Food Testing Institute offers workshops on this.