Proactive produce solution: Targeting oxidation before it begins
A new range of products from shelf- life solutions specialist Food freshly takes aim at the oxidation issues that can plague fresh-cut produce by targeting the problem at the root.
The company’s range of nature- based antioxidants helps prevent browning for bagged, fresh-cut lettuce and other produce, but its potential applications extend to fresh-cut fruits and root vegetables — and even to in-field treatments that could stop oxidation before it begins.
“The product itself is not really about extending the shelf life from, let’s say, 14 days to 16 days,” Benjamin Singh, Food freshly director of technical sales, told Produce Processing. “It’s rather in preventing that short- term browning within the first three to eight days that you get with romaine, iceberg lettuce, all the common varieties.”
The company’s antioxidant powders are dissolved in water and fresh-cut produce
is dipped into the solution, then drained and packed. With its solution well-established in the apple market, Food freshly, in conjunction with customers in North America and Europe, began thinking about applications closer to the field harvest than the supermarket shelf.
“(Customers) said we are harvesting that lettuce, that romaine, and then we have some transit time after harvest to our plant, wherever that may be,” Singh said. “In the U.S., it may be harvested in California and go on the road for maybe two or three days. That’s when the oxidation, the browning process, already starts. Very large companies have sophisticated processes in place to help prevent that, but you’re always trying to beat the time. The clock’s ticking the moment you harvest it.”
Even companies using modified atmosphere packaging, a system that involves changing the gaseous atmosphere around a food product inside a pack to maintain food preservation, are looking for ways to beat that clock, Singh said. In addition, produce processors shared stories of having to chop off the oxidized lower portions of product in their plants.
“That could actually be taken out of the processing chain if the lettuce didn’t oxidize in the first place,” Singh said, adding that the step elimination can reduce labor costs and cut down on product waste. “We’re really focusing on the parts along the supply chain where the lettuce is not being protected by a packaging.”
Those conversations with customers led Food freshly to explore in more detail the idea of in-field application and processing.
Gordon Nobuto, director of sales and marketing for Food freshly North America Inc., estimated that 80% to 90% of fresh- cut product could benefit from in-field treatment, but said the idea is still in its initial stages.
“It is still a relatively new concept because, to be frank, there is some upfront cost in the field, instead of just picking and harvesting the romaine or the lettuce,” Nobuto said. “We try to be upfront about that to the customers, and because it is so new, we try to assist each company as they look at ways they can make this new process work within their production setups.”
Solutions can vary based on each customer’s in-field processing approach, Singh said. Food freshly provides “general ideas,” he said, and is looking for more companies to work with to help develop in-field solutions.
Singh points to Food freshly’s success with treating sliced apples — the company’s biggest market — as an indication that its solutions can be adapted as seamlessly by other users.
“We’ve already figured that out, and our customers as well. We send them a sample and they use it in the plant, and it works” to keep sliced apples firm and fresh for up to three weeks, Singh said. “But this is really new, so we need customers that are willing to work with us a little bit more than usual and kind of walk the extra mile to get this project going.”
Freshly food’s products are vitamin- and mineral-based and FDA-approved, Singh said, with organic-certified solutions being used for apples, avocados and other produce.
“The nature of our company is to look for new applications for new products,” he said. “This is something that we put a lot of effort into with our technical teams here in Europe, especially doing research on fresh-cut produce and developing formulations and products that offer more benefits apart from fresh-cut apples. That is really our biggest strategic focus right now.”