'One extra day of life for fresh produce will reduce waste, could save millions and help resolve global hunger' says UWE

Issue date: 13 August 2013

Researchers at UWE Bristol are about to embark on a project called 'Microbial Management of Fresh Produce Preservation, Protection and Intervention' to improve the storage life of fresh produce. The £220,000 project is funded by DEFRA through the Technology Strategy Board, and led by food technology developers, Norman Pendred & Company.

The journey, or supply chain, of fresh produce from growth, harvesting, storage and transportation to supermarket shelf is complex. If food is picked too late or stored in the wrong conditions it rots, if transported carelessly it bruises, if displayed in an unsuitable environment, packaging or the wrong temperature, it leads to enormous wastage that is unsustainable.

A recent global report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has highlighted the importance of using novel technologies to extend the life of fresh produce that will reduce food wastage during the supply chain from field to supermarket shelf.

“We are going to have to make some big decisions about the crops we grow and the food supply chain and food processing if we are to be able to feed the world in the future”, says UWE Bristol's Professor Darren Reynolds, the academic lead for the project, “To put this work into context if we can add just one day to the life of fruit or vegetables through using novel microbial management methods we can make an enormous difference. For example, at the moment up to 30% of potatoes can be lost during the supply chain before they even reach the table and this is a catastrophe that is simply unsustainable.”

Professor Reynolds continues, “Microbiological management is one of the most important practices in post-harvest fresh produce processing and manufacturing for the control of spoilage organisms, environmental pathogens and food borne diseases, helping maintain produce quality and reduce supply chain waste.

“Intervention at all stages of the supply chain is essential and must involve a multifaceted, integrated approach. An additional industry challenge is the on-going regulatory movement away from chemical use in the food industry. Long-term we are especially interested in how these technological solutions can be implemented in developing countries where infrastructure and storage conditions of fresh produce are limited and waste is high.”

The research team from UWE Bristol will work with food producers and suppliers from the Fresca Group; and Technology Partners - Norman Pendred and Co and Bridge Biotechnology.

Pendred, the commercial lead in the project, have been working in the food technology sector for 65 years and have undergone a number of innovative periods to meet the changing demands of the industry. Their core business today is the development, installation and maintenance of unique aerosolisation technologies for maintaining hydration of fresh produce, to extend storage and shelf life of products and Pendred serve a global customer base.

Technical Director, Guy Pendred says, “It is critical for us to stay one step ahead of the game, to meet the changing environmental and commercial demands of the food industry.”

The team aims to develop a practical means of controlling food spoilage, storage-life and shelf life of post-harvest produce whilst also minimising microbiological contamination from contact surfaces, collectively helping to reduce waste and improve food security and food safety. The team plan to develop a manufacturing process innovation, which is to be implemented within commercial processing practice, initially the cold storage of fresh produce.

The systems the team develop will be easily integrated within current manufacturing, processing and operating procedures, at a number of stages throughout the food supply chain. Using novel technology they aim to provide an engineering solution that may facilitate hygiene process automation to reduce current labour intensive disinfection practices. Linked to this technology is the reduction of supply chain scheduling inefficiencies by enabling strategic cropping during favourable weather conditions (and avoiding adverse weather conditions), as the technology would allow extended storage-life of fresh produce.

This innovation will also maximise efficient use of resources; reduce costs, environmental impact, reliance on chemical disinfectants (which are hazardous, require transporting and impact the carbon and water footprint of the industry); and employ disinfectants which are complimentary with on-going regulatory changes for chemical use within the food sector.

The project is funded by DEFRA, through the Technology Strategy Board and began in April – it will report in 18 months' time.

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