Remember the days when you would go to the market and see stall upon stall of fresh fruit and vegetables? “Get your apples, pears and bananas here! Fifty pence for your punnet of strawberries,” the market traders would shout as customers openly haggled prices and tasted their produce before parting with their cash.
In the UK, the growth of supermarkets, plastic money, technology and the need for convenience has changed the way many of us shop. Consequently, we have become a nation of plastic-covered fruit and veg lovers…Or have we? Recently, the rise in awareness of plastic as a global problem polluting our environment and causing danger to life in our oceans has made us think about how much plastic we put in our bins.
Tackling the issue head on, the Produce Quality Centre (PQC) – a collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich and NIAB EMR, a horticultural research institute, at East Malling, Kent – is researching economic alternative solutions to plastic packaging whilst managing high-value fresh produce.
Semperfresh, produced by AgriCoat NatureSeal UK, is a sucrose-ester-based coating made from edible ingredients (sugar esters, vegetable oils and plant cellulose) that provides a protective barrier for fresh fruit and vegetables to prevent water loss and improve produce quality, with zero plastic packaging. The coatings slow down both the respiration and diffusion of carbon dioxide and oxygen of the fruit and vegetables, creating a modified atmosphere inside the fruit tissue which is effective in delaying ripening process – effectively putting the produce to sleep and therefore reducing spoilage in fruit and vegetables.
The PQC has tested a commercial product which is already on the market, and is currently assessing new experimental versions of the product for fruits such as avocados and pears, aiming to optimise its effects and ease of use. Experiments have been undertaken to provide scientific analysis of its performance, in terms of both product quality and shelf life.
Trials with avocados and conference pears have shown that both the original and newer (experimental) versions of Semperfresh substantially improve the quality and shelf life compared to untreated fruit. The PQC is excited to see how Semperfresh will perform on other perishables and whether it can be used to prevent deterioration of fruit including Bramley apples that develop disorders during storage.
“NRI provides independent research to certify the effectiveness of Semperfresh to extend shelf life and improve quality of unpackaged fruits and vegetables, consequently reducing plastic packaging and food waste,” explains NRI’s Dr Lori Fisher, Enterprise Development Fellow. “This impartial scientific research provides AgriCoat with a valuable level of product verification to gain consumer confidence.”
Dr Debbie Rees, Reader, Food and Markets Department at NRI, adds, “In order for the fresh produce industry and consumers to benefit from the increasing number of new technologies being developed, it is essential that organisations such as the PQC exist to provide independent impartial evaluation.”