Oxygen Tweak Could Lower Cost of Organic Produce
Hanker for more organic produce but feeling pinched in the wallet by the oft-higher prices? Well, help may finally be on the way: Lisa Richards reports in the current issue of Chemistry & Industry that scientists from the Volcani Center in Israel have discovered a cheap and effective trick to keep organic produce stored longer using oxygen.
Consumers in the UK and the US have typically had to pay as much as twice the regular price for some organic products. One major reason is the short shelf life of these produce, which can cause some grocers to suffer heavy losses if they aren't stored properly. Whereas regular produce can be treated with preservatives to prolong storage time, organic produce cannot, by definition, be treated with them.
‘With some organic fruit and veg, there can be large losses [during storage]," said Claudia Ruane, a spokeswoman for Abel & Cole organic produce retailers. Discussing the merits of the sophisticated refrigeration units employed by some organic farms to extend storage time during collection, she noted, "These are important and costly but if paying out for these facilities can ensure a whole crop is not rejected by a retailer because it is a little limp or dehydrated, then it is a cost that has to be absorbed."This is where the technique devised by Edna Pesis and her colleagues at the Volcani Center comes in handy. By treating the produce for a week with low levels of oxygen at 20ºC, they were able to prevent scald formation, a type of injury associated with prolonged cold storage. According to Pesis, 90% of the treated apples used in the study were "saved from the scald problem in addition to other physiological diseases" after eight months of cold storage. On the other hand, 100% of untreated apples were lost after eight months.
She adds that the oxygen trick can be modified for use with other organic produce, including tomatoes and avocados.