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Special Edition: shelf life

Increasing shelf life in fruit and vegetables

By Rachel Arthur+

15-Oct-2014
Last updated on 24-Oct-2014 at 12:15 GMT2014-10-24T12:15:57Z

Fresh fruit and vegetables are susceptible to spoilage
Fresh fruit and vegetables are susceptible to spoilage

A recent development in food packaging technology can delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables, offering a way to tackle the huge volumes of food waste, according to Cellresin Technologies.

Cellresin Technologies, a US company which designs and develops a variety of materials, has created a way to include an ethylene inhibitor (1-MCP) in food packaging. 

Having launched its technology, Cellresin is now looking for commercial partners to develop it on an industrial scale. 

Reduce spoilage and waste

Ethylene is responsible for the ripening of fruit. The ethylene inhibitor, 1-MCP, has been used to stop ripening in cold storage facilities for some time, but Cellresin believes its technology is the first time it has been used in packaging.  

The technology can be incorporated into conventional packaging such as flexible films, labels, inserts, cardboards and paper. It could be used either in consumer packaging or in bulk packaging along the distribution chain.

Will Wood, vice president and general manager, Cellresin Technologies, told FoodProductionDaily.com fruit and vegetables are particularly susceptible to spoilage, and he wants the technology to reduce food waste.

“There is significant spoilage throughout the world. Without refrigeration, a lot of fruits and vegetables don’t last very long. In parts of the world where there isn’t a lot of cold storage, this could be a huge help in reducing deterioration.

“That means less waste, and less waste of resources like energy and water [used for growing the fruit]. All this becomes more important as we get more people on the planet.

 “An extra week of shelf life would make a huge difference, a few days would make a difference, in my understanding. Any additional shelf life would matter.”

The annual postharvest produce waste rate in the U.S. is estimated at around 30% for fruit and vegetables. Resources are wasted in farming produce which is uneaten, such as fertilizers, land, freshwater and energy consumption. Produce waste happens throughout the supply chain, including during distribution and among consumers.

Freshly-cut and ready-to-eat packaged products, are an area where there is a lot of waste, Wood added. They are designed to offer convenience but are a more perishable product with shorter shelf life than intact fruits and vegetables.

Printing inhibitors onto packaging

Ethylene occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, and is the molecule that makes produce ripen.

The gas 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MPC) is an ethylene inhibitor. By binding with ethylene it can block its effect, therefore hindering the ripening process.

1-MCP has been used in cold storage rooms for more than 10 years. However, it has been difficult to use it with packaging because the complex is unstable with heat and solvents.

Cellresin has made compositions of 1-MCP that can be distributed by conventional printing (inkjet, flexographic or gravure) onto the surface of packaging. The water vapour from plant materials activates the release of 1-MCP from the packaging, therefore reducing ripening.

“The amount of 1-MCP can be controlled by the thickness of print, the concentration of 1-MCP, and the area that’s printed – there’s a lot of different controls you can use,” Wood said.

The technology can be used with overwrap for trays, shrink and lidding films; pallet bags; labels; shipping boxes, and film/paper inserts.

“The technology has just surfaced after four years of research and development,” said Wood. “Cellresin’s business model is a technology developer which out-licenses its proprietary technology.  Presently, we are in the process of ‘missionary marketing’ the technology because it’s so new to the food packaging category.” 

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