Foods that are transported by plane have a high carbon footprint. Transporting food by air emits around 50 times as much greenhouse gases as transporting the same amount by sea.
Some shops will have information on their websites whether they use air freight. Veg box providers Riverford and Able & Cole mention that they do not use air freight. You could also ask or email a supplier or shop - they could let you know or at least realise that there are consumers who are concerned.
Many packaging labels have the country of ‘origin’ which can give a clue to if the food may have been flown in. This is not a reliable method because the food could have been shipped by sea.
Here are some foods that are likely to be air-freighted:
- If a highly perishable food comes from far away, it has likely been air-freighted. Highly perishable foods need to be eaten soon, and shipping by sea can be too slow for them. Common examples in the UK are blueberries (from Australia, New Zealand, South America), mangoes (from Asia), asparagus & blackberries (from South America), green beans, baby corn, mangetout, sugar snap peas & tender stem broccoli (from Africa) and seafood.
- High value goods (tobacco, alcohol)
- Some organic fruit & vegetables
- Exports from countries where the road / sea route is less convenient (like sub-Saharan Africa)
Here's a list of foods along with information from Transport Information Service whether they could be air freighted or not. Note that these are only guidelines and do not imply that the foods certainly are or are not air freighted.
|Type of food||Foods that can be air freighted||Foods that are generally not air freighted|
Tea (especially Darjeeling tea)
|Coffee, coffee beans|
Cocoa, cocoa beans
|Preserved foods||Preserved sausages|
|Dried fruit||Dried apples|
|Dried vegetables||Dried beans|
|Nuts & seeds||Coconuts|
|Meat/fish/dairy products||Chilled meat|
Blythman J, “Food Miles: The True Cost of Putting Imported Food on Your Plate” (The Independent, May 2007)
“Cargo Site Map – Transport Informations Service” (www.tis-gdv.de)
Lewis R, Lawrence F and Jones A, “Miles and Miles and Miles” (The Guardian, May 2003)
Ritchie H and Roser M, “Environmental Impacts of Food Production” (Our World in Data, 2020)
Smith A and others, “The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development Final Report Produced for DEFRA” (2005)