Startup Works to Improve Shelf Life of Produce

Stephanie Strom reported in Wednesday’s New York Times that, “What if a Florida tomato could be left on the vine long enough to turn red and fully develop its flavor — and still be ripe and juicy when it arrived at a grocery store in New York days later?

That is precisely the promise of a start-up here in Southern California, Apeel Sciences, that aims to make obsolete the gas, wax and other tricks growers use to keep fruits and vegetables fresh over time.

“Using leaves, stems, banana peels and other fresh plant materials left behind after fruits and vegetables are picked or processed, Apeel has developed a method for creating imperceptible, edible barriers that the company says can extend the life of produce like green beans and berries by as much as five times. Apeel can even deliver a day-of-the-week bunch of bananas, each ripening on a different day.”

The article noted that, “An Apeel product already has been used to stretch the shelf life of cassava in Africa.

“‘It takes 30 days to get blueberries grown in Chile to market in the United States, which means they have to be picked before they’re ripe and shipped under heavy refrigeration,’ said James Rogers, the founder and chief executive of Apeel. ‘We can change that.'”

Ms. Strom explained that, “If the product performs as advertised, it could bring sweeping changes to the produce industry and grocery aisles. It could reduce food waste and the use of pesticides and increase the varieties of fruits and vegetables available.”

Wednesday’s article added that, “But the company’s product is still largely untested at a commercial level, and it faces several potential hurdles beyond effectiveness. Consumers may be wary of a new coating on fresh food, for example, and growers may decide it adds too much cost.

“‘The socioeconomic factors are as important as these technologies themselves,’ said Christopher B. Watkins, a professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

“Americans have greater access than ever to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. That abundance can come at the expense of taste, as plants are chosen for their ability to withstand time and transportation, not necessarily for their flavor. And yet an enormous amount of what’s produced still rots before it can be shipped.”

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