Carbon dioxide is a gas used to add bubbles in beer and soft drinks and drinks dispensing systems, as well as a variety of food uses such as extending shelf life with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP).
However, a number of European plants have been shut down for maintenance or technical issues, which – along with other factors – has created a shortage of CO2.
The UK appears to be among the worst hit, with only one big CO2 producer currently in operation.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) understand the shortage could last for at least a few weeks and recommends that pubs contact their supplier over any specific concerns.
“We would urge those BBPA members seeking to contact their retail customers/partners to reiterate the importance of using beverage dispense gas supplied only by reputable providers and which is of the appropriate food grade,” it said.
It warns members not to turn to non-reputable supplier of dispense gas: aside from the threat to human health it highlights that one cylinder of bad dispense gas will ruin up to 10 kegs of beer; while leaving members at risk of prosecution for breaching food regulations and health and safety acts.
Why is there a CO2 shortage?
One of the largest sources of food grade CO2 in Europe is from ammonia plants. However, ammonia is used in fertiliser production with peak production output during winter months.
Maintenance and shut-downs regularly take place in April-June: which coincides with the peak time for production of soft and alcoholic drinks.
This year a number of maintenance and technical shutdowns appear to have all taken place at the same time, along with a fall in ammonia prices that have led European producers to prolong downtime.
Meanwhile, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has issued a note on the potential food safety issues that may arise from the shortage, particularly with regards to packaging.
“Carbon dioxide is a potential source of contamination of food. Therefore, carbon dioxide used in food or in contact with food must be fit for purpose; often described as ‘food grade’.
“In the current shortage situation, food and beverage operators should not seek to substitute lower grade carbon dioxide for ‘food grade’ carbon dioxide that, as a minimum, meets legal purity criteria. Although carbon dioxide in packaging is not directly added to food, it dissolves in water in the food on storage and any contaminants will become incorporated into the food.”
The BBPA and British Compresses Gases Association offers advice on safe use of beverage gases here; while the Food and Safety Authority of Ireland references the European Industrial Gas Association here.
‘Government must act with urgency’
The UK’s Food and Drink Federation is urging the government to act to address the issue.
Helen Munday, Chief Scientific Officer, FDF said: “FDF and its members are concerned about CO2 supplies and the lack of clarity regarding how long a shortage might last and the scale of such a shortage. Despite the focus in the media on certain sectors, this is an issue that will affect much of the UK’s £112bn farm-to-fork supply chain.
"Government must act with urgency to assess the issue as quickly as possible and support the industry through any period of restricted supply.”
Gavin Partington, Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association, says soft drinks producers are working to maintain service to customers.
“The shortage of CO2 across Northern Europe is impacting a wide range of businesses across the food and drink sector.
“Soft drinks producers in the UK are taking active steps to maintain their service to customers including working with their suppliers to mitigate the impact.”