Invention Could Make Produce Last Longer — And Really Put a Dent in Food Waste

New technology can keep bananas from ripening for 70 days once they're picked. (Photo: Quang Ho/Shutterstock)

Many fruits contain a naturally occurring gas called ethylene. Ethylene causes fruits to ripen, which causes them to produce more ethylene. Once ethylene is released, it can induce ripening in other fruits it contacts. When damaged fruits begin to produce ethylene — and picking a fruit essentially damages it — the rate of ethylene production can increase.

When fruits are picked and have a long haul to get from harvest to market, it can be a race against the clock to get them there before they are too ripe to sell. That's why many fruits are picked before they've started to ripen and release ethylene. Once it's time for them to be sold, they're artificially ripened using ethylene gas. Bananas are one such fruit.

But, even under-ripe bananas begin to produce ethylene during their long haul, and if they are too ripe by the time they get to market, they are wasted. These unsellable bananas contribute to the vast amount of global food waste each year, a problem that many countries, including the U.S., are actively tackling.

An invention to fight food waste

A new invention could save more than 250 million bananas from being wasted because they've ripened too early for consumption, reports Huffington Post. The U.K. company It's Fresh! has developed a filter that keeps bananas greener longer. The filter works by absorbing the ethylene that the bananas produce.

The potential for wasting a lot less fruit is great, because It's Fresh! works for many types of fruits. But what happens to the fruit while it's exposed to one of these ethylene absorbing filters? According to the company's FAQ page, nothing occurs except an extended period of remaining unripe.

The filters are made from a special blend of minerals and clay sealed in a recyclable breathable waterproof jacket, that absorb the ethylene gas. They are food safe, complying with all EU and USA Food legislation.

It's Fresh! claims that nothing in the filters is harmful to food, including the food-grade ink used on the package. The filters that come inside food packaging can even be reused by placing them in a fruit bowl, although they will eventually become saturated with ethylene and stop absorbing more. They can even be thrown in a recycling bin in the U.K.

Although produce that is picked ripe and consumed shortly after harvest usually is the highest quality, it's not always possible to eat that way. If we want to eat fruit that's out of season, if we want to make the fresh produce in our kitchens last a little longer, and most importantly, if we want to get food to areas of the world where there is life-threatening hunger, produce needs to be picked underripe. If that underripe produce goes bad in transit, it's a problem.

As the world is actively tackling that problem, solutions are going to come in many forms. This filter, if it's as food safe as the company says, looks like it could be a possible answer.