From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published May 15, 2013 01:49 PM

Keeping Produce Fresh Longer

Billions of dollars of fruits, vegetables, and flowers are thrown away each year as produce ripens too quickly and starts to rot in different markets before public buyers even buy them.

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Even though you might expect these products to start rotting to their death after they are first harvested, researchers explain that fruits, vegetables and flowers are still alive after they are picked. In fact, once these products are picked, they produce and release into the air ethylene gas, a crucial component for the ripening and blooming process.

The ripening process is accomplished by a group of enzymes that may change the color of the skin, break down certain acids, convert starches to sugars, and break down large molecules into smaller ones that evaporate as aroma.

We can usually tell if a piece of fruit is ready for consumption based on its smell and feel. And when we know the product isn’t ripe enough, many of us have even tried speeding up this ripening process by putting these items in a sealed bag. This concentrates the ethylene gas that is released and ripens the piece faster.

However, we usually do not want our produce to already be ripe when it gets to stores because it will then go bad quicker. And often premature ripening happens during storage and shipment of these fruits and vegetables causing spoilage and financial losses.

As part of a worldwide effort to find better ways of controlling ethylene, Nicolas Keller, Marie-NoĆ«lle Ducamp, Didier Robert and Valérie Kellerand reviewed almost 300 published studies and compared all existing ethylene control/removal methods and technologies.

The research team concluded that photocatalysis offers the greatest potential for removing ethylene and preserving produce, both on Earth and during spaceflights. 

With the method that enters into the field of sustainable development, a catalyst and light act together to remove ethylene by transforming it into carbon dioxide and water. "Worldwide food technology could take advantage of photocatalysis technology for providing health and economical benefits and for globally contributing to both increased food quality and availability by reducing postharvest losses of fresh produce," the report states.

"Thus, through this multidisciplinary review, we hope to be successful in illustrating photocatalysis as a really promising technology, within a sustainable development approach, for replacing current ethylene removal technologies during the storage and the transfer of fresh fruits and vegetables," they say.

The article can be found in the ACS journal Chemical Reviews.

See more at the American Chemical Society.

Produce image via Shutterstock.

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