New technology from the USA is promising better quality fresh produce with a longer shelf-life.
Apeel Sciences has developed an edible, plant-derived spray-on skin that can be applied to harvested fruits and vegetables in order to slow down the processes of oxidisation and water loss. As well as helping to stabilise just-harvested qualities, the technology also has the potential to reduce food waste and make supply chains less reliant on refrigeration.
Developed by materials scientist Dr James Rogers, Apeel is a colourless, odourless and tasteless food-grade coating that can be applied to fresh produce as a dip or spray. The manufacturers have developed a process that extracts lipids and glycerolipids from plant- based sources such as tomato skins and seeds. The end result is a powder which can be mixed with water to form the spray-on coating which Apeel claims extends the shelf-life of produce by two or three times.
The application has been approved by the USAFood and Drug Administrator regulator and is safe to eat. It is also approved for application on USDA certified organic produce.
The technology has been tested on produce including avocados, asparagus and citrus fruits, and according to Apeel, they have developed formulations for around 50 different foods including fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese. US retailer Kroger recently trialled Apeel treated asparagus in a selection of stores and is now rolling it out to more than 1,100 shops nation wide. Currently, UK supermarket chain Asda are trailing the application in store on clementines imported from South America.
Apeel reduces the rate at which produce shrinks and loses colour and flavour according to Rogers, who also suggests that longer lasting fresh produce could reduce or eliminate the use of preservatives, fungicides, atmosphere control and even refrigerated transport.
“It’s a huge benefit. Partners have money and quality evaporating [as produce loses moisture]. It’s just like us, you’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated,” he said.
One advantage of the technology could be the impact on road transport – which is the second biggest contributor of greenhouse gas pollution in Australia and the third globally.
“95% of asparagus coming out of Peru today is airfreighted into the US. With Apeel, we’re able to send that via sea freight, and that’s the type of transformational change that this technology is capable of.”
Given around 40% of food grown ends up in landfill, technologies that can increase the shelf-stable life of fresh produce have the potential to make a significant dent in the global waste problem.
Apeel Sciences was founded in 2012 with initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several other venture capitalists, and to date has raised $110 million to continue the development and commercialisation of the product.