Cutting food waste with technology that keeps produce fresh
An EU-funded project developed dry misting systems for fruits and vegetables in transport, storage and supermarket displays that can prolong their shelf life, helping in the fight against food waste.
© Mihail Mihailov - fotolia.com
Food waste is a growing problem in Europe with around 50 % of all fruits and vegetables disposed of in the EU each year a rate which the EU is hoping to halve by 2020. Close to one-third of fruit and vegetable waste is caused by produce perishing between being harvested and reaching the consumer, largely due to long distribution routes and inadequate technologies used in transport and storage.
Hoping to tackle this challenge, the EU-funded FRESH-DEMO project developed innovative humidification and disinfection technology that extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by slowing their decay, structural change and moisture loss.
The system keeps the produce humidified in transport vehicles, storage warehouses and supermarket displays using a dry mist infused with natural antioxidants extracted from fruit and vegetables. The mist creates a cool -5 °C humid, germ-free and non-toxic environment that preserves quality and freshness.
“With our technology, fresh products are no longer in stress mode, their vitamins and polyphenols are better preserved and shelf life is increased, resulting in a 30 to 35 % cut in the amount of fruits and vegetables thrown away by supermarkets,” says FRESH-DEMO project coordinator Max Albertus, communications manager at Contronics in the Netherlands.
The technology has already been piloted in EU retail outlets including Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Carrefour and Tesco, and has even attracted interest from the Saudi Arabian retailer Panda.
From strawberry fields to the supermarket
The FRESH-DEMO team tested its technology on strawberries, asparagus, nectarines, grapes, cauliflower and lettuce that travel thousands of kilometres from farms to supermarkets across Europe.
In Huelva, Spain, strawberries are traditionally packed into 1 kg wooden boxes directly on the field during the harvest. They are not washed or treated. The wooden boxes are transported to a factory where they are cooled to 4 °C before being transported 2 700 km at 2-4 °C to Bremerhaven in Germany for storage in supermarket cooling rooms at 4° C until they are displayed.
With FRESH-DEMO technology, the strawberries are cooled to to 2- 4 °C directly after their harvest in vans fitted with humidification technology and treated with a natural orange extract. They stay in the humidified van until they are ready to be displayed at which point they are acclimatised for 90 minutes to avoid condensation and then presented in the dry mist in the supermarket.
Trials showed that humidified strawberries had a more intense red colour and fresh green crowns even after 11 days in storage. Non-humidified strawberries showed signs of structural decay, colour-loss and a wilted green crown.
Better taste, more vitamins
In another trial, asparagus a vegetable with a high water content meaning it has a shelf life of just three to four days were stored with dry mist technology in Bremerhaven, Germany. The new technology prolonged asparagus shelf life to five to six days, with the vegetables characterised by fewer brown patches, a whiter colour and a better flavour.
Other trials carried out by FRESH-DEMO researchers found that humidification during transport and storage of nectarines, peaches and grapes resulted in a higher vitamin C content compared to non-humidified fruit.
Further trials on other vegetables included Iceberg and Romaine lettuces. The trials tested weight loss, firmness, appearance inside and out, wilting, stem darkening, rotting and mould development all of which improved with dry misting.
“Our mission is to take part in the battle against food waste,” Albertus concludes. “We are looking for partners throughout the entire supply chain to work towards a more sustainable food chain.”