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Clare has worked in plant science for over thirteen years having joined the Natural Resources Institute in November 2017. Clare works at the Natural Resource Institutes postharvest crop laboratories based at The Produce Quality Centre, a collaboration between NRI and NIAB EMR. In her current role she provides vital planning, technical and research support for the successful delivery of national and international, commercial and academic projects e.g. Innovate UK Coolberry, FreshWorks™, Safepod Agritech. On a day to day basis she provides set up, implementation and assessment on a range of storage and shelf life trials. Clare also provides occasional research support to PhD students and to other non-perishable food crop specialists within NRI, including the Nutritional Postharvest Loss Estimation Methodology (NUTRI-P-LOSS) project.
Previous to this, Clare spent over a decade working at East Malling Research Station and later NIAB EMR. As such she has an extensive experience of working on both top and soft fruit, leaf and root vegetables and ornamental plants and flowers. She has accrued a range of technical and organisational skills, accompanied with essential working knowledge in a number of fields, including plant breeding, entomology, and physiology, applied to academic research, consumer research and commercial farm processes.
Postharvest quality, plant physiology, crop storage management,
Clare is chiefly interested in reducing food and product waste and the effect of storage or shelf life conditions on produce quality. She is also looking forward to expanding her knowledge and skills in the field of plastic alternatives and edible coatings to promote sustainable packaging whilst still ensuring minimal food loss and reduced carbon emissions.
Clare’s main goal is to support commerce through research, turning theories into practicalities that will support industry needs. With particular consideration to sustainable production alongside reduced losses to support a viable economic framework.
Commercial trials at the Produce Quality Centre
NRI’s storage research facilities at the Produce Quality Centre, East Malling are the most extensive research facilities in the UK for trials on controlled atmosphere storage (reduced oxygen and increased CO2 to slow down metabolism and increase storage life). The facilities are used to carry out trials for commercial companies to optimise storage protocols for new varieties of apples and pears and to test sea freight conditions for imported fruit such as avocado. In addition, over the past few years they have been used to investigate novel storage strategies for produce for which controlled atmosphere storage has not traditionally been used. In recent years NRI has carried out trials on a wide range of produce including leeks, asparagus, cabbage and daffodils.
CoolBerry: Innovations for in-field cooling of soft fruit
2019-2022. NRI project lead: Richard Colgan. Funded through Innovate UK. Partners: JDCooling Ltd, Berry Gardens Ltd, Scorpion Ltd.
Removal of field heat from perishable produce is critical for quality and storability. In order to extend storage life, this project is developing a mobile field based cooling-rig, initially for soft fruit, that will enable growers to rapidly remove the field-heat from produce immediately after harvest to below 5°C.
Prototype cooling-cells constructed at the PQC will be used to optimise the cooling process in terms of rate of cooling, and control of humidity to minimise moisture loss, which can be a major problem during cooling. The design and composition of packaging will be optimised to improve the rate and efficiency of cooling, thereby reducing energy usage. A close partnership with growers during the development of the cooling rig will ensure that the design is optimal to fit with the logistics of complex field harvesting logistics.
Developing Practical Strategies to Improve Quality and Storage Potential of UK Apples
2016 – 2021 NRI project lead: Richard Colgan. Funded through AHDB – Horticulture. Partners: NIAB EMR, FAST, Landseer Ltd
There is evidence that apple fruit with high dry matter content at harvest have better eating quality and also store better. The underlying basis of this relationship needs to be better understood so that it can be manipulated to deliver premium fruit quality. This will be achieved through a combination of a meta-analysis of existing data sets to obtain a greater understanding of the factors controlling both fruit dry matter content and quality, and the development of practical strategies in terms of novel pruning strategies, reflective covers and manipulation of crop load through bud and fruit thinning to help growers to improve the quality of stored apples.
SafePod: New technology for intelligent control of fresh produce storage
2015 – 2018 NRI project lead: Debbie Rees. Funded through Innovate (Agritech Catalyst) Partners: Storage Control Systems Ltd, AC Goathams and Son, Avalon Produce Ltd, Sainsbury’s Ltd
After harvest, apples may be stored for up to 12 months in large controlled atmosphere stores (low temperature, low oxygen and high CO2). The SafePod technology was initially conceived as an environmentally controlled chamber to be placed within commercial apple stores to monitor fruit respiration as an indicator of low oxygen stress (the ratio of CO2 evolution to O2 consumption increases when fruit start to respire anaerobically). However, with its highly sensitive monitoring of respiratory characteristics it has turned out to be a valuable tool for following produce status during storage and predicting physiological deterioration, as well as for evaluating new storage protocols. It has potential for a wider range of produce than apple alone, both commercially and also as a tool for crop research centres and universities.
The SafePod system was built by Storage Control Systems with scientific support from NRI and in collaboration with Sainsbury’s PLC, AC Goatham & Son, Avalon Produce Ltd. The system is now being trialled by apple growers in the UK and North America, with more than 200 units sold or leased in 2019. This project has been highlighted by BBSRC in an impact case study.
Bio-based Packaging for Fresh Food: BioFreshPak
2017-2020 NRI project lead: Debbie Rees. Funded through Newton Bha-Bha. Partners: Nextek Ltd, Solutions 4 Plastic, Brunel University, Earth Champions, Punjab Agricultural University, Manbras Plastics,
This project is focused on improved packaging materials for the Indian fresh produce supply chain that will be biodegradable and recyclable and will A) reduce wastage by improving the storage stability and shelf life of food during transit between the producer and the urban consumer, B) reduce the level of adulteration via sealable and tamper-evident features, C) reduce urban solid waste from packaging going to landfill, and D) improve health and wellbeing of the population by improved retention of nutritional quality and reducing risk of spoilage in meat or vegetables. To achieve these objectives, the project will develop innovative bio-based hybrid polymer packaging films with selective humidity and permeability control and improved shelf-life performance with enhanced environmental characteristics. The packaging systems will be based on the incorporation and compatibilisation of presently under used agri-waste (tapioca starch recovered as a waste product from starch factories) at low costs into conventional and other bio-based polymers. The treatment of the agri-waste will contribute to reducing the significant cassava waste problems.
Clare provides laboratory technical assistance and project support for both commercial and academic research projects. She provides assistance to the Produce Quality Centre Faculty Manager and is responsible for the Oreto compliance of projects. Recently Clare has taken up health and wellbeing roles, providing mental health support for colleagues.