Inside the frozen-food archipelago

Seventy percent of all the food you eat passes through an oft-overlooked system of refrigerated warehouses, factories, and trucks, writes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic. That’s not just the stuff you think of as “frozen food”, either. Peanuts, for instance, are chilled. With photos and some judicious excerpts from Tom Wolfe novels, Madrigal introduces us… READ THE REST

That’s a huge portion of our economy that can easily soak up excess electricity from renewables to balance the electric grid.

You are more correct than you can imagine. Many refrigerated storage facilities implement a passive shifting strategy to their operations. They run the refrigeration systems hard at night, when electricity is cheaper and there is excess grid capacity, and then reduce or shut off the refrigeration capacity during the day. Its a cost saving strategy for them but also accomplishes what you are suggesting. Namely, they can make better use of wind and other renewable generation that occurs in the middle of the night.


My ex-husband worked in a cold-food storage warehouse driving a forklift. His shop wasn’t unionized. Which was obvious when the cooling system broke several times a year and leaked ammonia all over the place. They don’t use freon in big warehouses, they use ammonia. They’d evacuate the workers into school busses and clean it up and then the fork-lift drivers would have to sort through the boxes of food (we’re talking Alberta beef, raw chicken, 100kg bars of Callebaut chocolate) and try to sort out what had been contaminated and what had not, by sniffing it, in a warehouse that stank of ammonia, to see if smelt of ammonia. Terrifying.

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I’ve always wondered about these places. So strange. Looking at stuff like this makes me wonder how our entire crazy system manages to stay functional.

I just had to throw in a couple of other comments about the article.

First, one of the commentors on the original article hit it on the head when they said, “…Americans have really started viewing food and meat products the same as, say, toothbrushes or iPods…” Its the reason so many of us no longer see food as a “seasonal” commodity and we get upset when we don’t have fresh tomatoes in January or just picked apples in May. A lot of research and technologies have been brought together to make certain your food is ripe and available whenever you want it.

Second, the article missed the mark a bit on why they are built where they are built. Missy_pants touched on it mentioning that they use ammonia. Unionized/non-union, Ammonia/Freon…it doesn’t matter. They all leak or have the potential to leak. I’ve found that the integrity of the systems depends more upon the attitude of the technicians and the dedication of the management to devote budget than anything else. But when things go bad, you don’t want the refrigerant affecting to many people so they generally try to build them away from residential areas.

Ammoina vs. freon? Give me ammonia any day. No ozone depletion. No global warming. Its all ready applied as fertilizer to our fields. Its present in nature. Plus its “self alarming”. The smell tells you when to get out. With the “freons”, there’s no real odor…you just pass out or worse. Look up R-22 asphyxiation and you’ll find several cases of technicians succumbing to the gas.

Look into it more and you will find the science of “logistics” is pretty complex. Just the distribution warehouses themselves are extremely complex entities. Throw in all the trucks, trains and planes that pick up and deliver each day and you’ll see an amazing web.

One of the best at this is Walmart. They rarely have a truck on the road that isn’t full of product going somewhere. There is very little waste and they can respond pretty quickly. If you are looking for proof, ask yourself who was the first to get supplies to New Orleans after Katrina? It wasn’t FEMA…it was Walmart.

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