Preserving produce and reducing waste

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The USDA says that up to 40% of produce in the U.S. ends up getting thrown out because it goes bad before it’s eaten. But new technology is extending the lifespan of fruits and vegetables.

Mission Produce employees in Oxnard, California have to act fast with Hass avocados ready to be shipped to the northern part of the state. Ripe avocados only have two to four days of freshness. But, Patrick Cortes with Mission Produce says a new packet that can be thrown in a box with the avocadoes is changing that. “We’ve been able to extend the shelf life sometimes two to four days when fruits ripe,” he says.

According to developers, the packet slows down the chemical process that causes decay. It contains a blend of materials like dirt and sand along with the active ingredient 1-methylcyclopropene or 1-MCP. 1-MCP interacts with the ethylene gas that is naturally released from the avocado, slowing down the ripening process. “It’s not contacting the produce, there’s no chemistry added into the food supply, but by controlling that atmospheric response to the ethylene we can extend the shelf life of the produce,” says Aidan Mouat of Hazel Technologies, the company that created the pouch.

Each packet can treat 25-pounds of produce and costs one dollar. “Since 2018, we have saved about 130 million pounds of produce from going bad,” Mouat says. Hazel Technologies says its packets also work on okra, stone fruits, leafy greens, and apples. The company is developing new technology to work on berries and root vegetables.

There are other produce preservation technologies in the works. Apeel Sciences claims to cut food waste in half by spraying produce once with a formula made from fatty acids of natural peels, seeds, and skins. Cambridge Crops makes an edible, protective coating made from natural silk proteins.

Cortes says the packets from Hazel Technologies make it possible for him to ship to new markets like India and China. He says the pouch is a game changer. “We can reduce waste retailers see at store level. We can increase positive experiences that the consumer has with an avocado,” Cortes says. And he says less food rot means he’s saving money and so are the grocery stores he ships to. Whether that leads to cheaper guacamole remains to be seen.

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