July/August 2019

Fresh produce packers have new solution available to extend shelf life

PerfoTec recently launched two products that aim to extend the shelf life of produce in a natural way.

One of the two, PerfoTecO2Control, was nominated for an Innovation Award earlier this year at Fruit Logistica. The company is calling it a global revolution for O2 control, especially in fresh-cut salads. Shannon Reinhard, commercial director with the company, explains what makes the new system innovative.

PerfoTecO2Control is a gas flush system that enables produce packers to reach optimal levels of modified atmosphere in fresh packed produce from the moment it’s packed. It works with any type of packing machine, vertical or horizontal tray sealers.

Different kinds of fruits and vegetables breathe differently, which means they require different amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside their packaging in order to extend shelf life. Oxygen levels always start at 21 at room temperature, Reinhard said. From there they are lowered accordingly until they reach their optimal resting mode to extend shelf life. Some of them need 10%, some need 1% in order to go into resting mode, she said.

Pre-mixing the gas

Gas-flushing systems are not new, Reinhard said, but with older systems the modified atmosphere inside packaging took about a day to reach the optimal level. Using tube-in-tube construction, PerfoTecO2Control mixes the gas in advance, which means atmosphere inside the packaging hits that life-extension sweet spot quicker than other gas flushing systems. Sensors ensure accuracy is maintained from package to package. The technology will be especially attractive to fresh-cut salad processors who well know the struggles of working with high-powered systems that blow product around inside the packaging, causing leaves to get stuck in the seal.

PerfoTec’s fast respiration meter.

“Instead of being very high powered this is a very low turbulence construction, which prevents up to 90% less product in the seal,” Reinhard said. “So, there’s a real savings in production time and in product by not having to worry about the fact that there’s product in the seal.”

Reinhard said replacing older gas flush systems with PerfoTecO2Control can improve production speeds by up to 20%.

What’s more is that it’s so precise that it can achieve an accurate and stable O2 level with a deviation of less than 0.5% between packs, Reinhard said.

“What we’ve seen with really important Dutch salad producers is that they have a deviation in their gas flushing of sometimes 5 to 10% — and this is 0.5%, so it’s extremely accurate,” she said.

With other gas flush systems, sometimes packers have to waste the first 10­ to 20 bags trying to make sure they’ve got the right level of gas in the packaging.

“Because the gas mixture with PerfoTecO2Control is ready before it starts flushing, you’re guaranteed that it’s the right level immediately,” said Reinhard. “The sensors at the top and bottom can tell that it’s all exactly how it should be.”

Maintaining internal environment

PerfoTecO2Control works together with the company’s laser perforation technology, which microperforates packaging to maintain the modified environment within. The laser technology extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables two to seven days, on average, Reinhard said.

PerfoTec recently launched another product, the Fast Respiration Meter (FRM), which Reinhard said works in conjunction with PerfoTecO2Control and the micro perforation system. The FRM measures the respiration rate of fruit and produce, cut or whole. Once the rate is measured, software calculates the number of holes needed within the package. This can vary widely from product to product. High precision cameras attached to the laser take images of every single hole, guaranteeing accuracy and improving traceability. Processors, said Reinhard, like this feature because it allows them to keep records of precisely how product was packaged.

Working in collaboration with researchers at universities across the U.S., some processors are using the FRM to better understand produce respiration rates, said Reinhard.

“Many times they think they know the respiration rate of certain products, but sometimes even within the same variety of strawberry, for example, in the same growing area, the respiration rate can vary greatly,” she said. “It also varies depends on the amount of weight in the package. If there’s more product, it’s going to respire quicker. And if the temperature is higher it’s also going to respire quicker.”

Reinhard said using all three products — the laser perforation system, PerfoTecO2Control and FRM — creates the ideal environment for extending the shelf life of product. The results are increased packing speed, accurate and stable O2 levels with a deviation of less than 0.5% between packaging, longer shelf life, and reduced food waste.

— By Melanie Epp, contributing writer

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