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With 1,500 corporate customers from 50 countries, it's not surprising that Purfresh Inc., based in Fremont, CA, is participating in the 2011 Fruit Logistica exhibition in Berlin.

But David Cope, president and chief executive officer of Purfresh, told The Produce News that the European market isn’t just any market for his firm. He credited Europeans for having a special interest in distributing safe foods. Such an interest has taken a foothold worldwide, he added, and is the basis of Purfresh’s genesis and ongoing success.

Purfresh was founded in 1996 to "providing clean, science-based solutions that purify, protect and preserve fresh produce," according to corporate materials.

“The company was founded with the observation that the global food industry is a very large, well-established industry but one that is undergoing a great deal of change,” said Mr. Cope. “A lot of that is driven by consumer behavior.”

An example of the behavioral change is “increased demand for a truly year- round supply of all fresh commodities,” he said. Another development is the expectation by average consumers in developing countries, such as China, to have increasingly higher standards for shelf life and food safety.

In the past, such demands “were in some ways mitigated by traditional chemicals, such as fungicides, pesticides and fluorinated compounds.” Today, consumer demand is for fewer traditional chemicals; organic foods reflect one of the many examples. Europeans and the Japanese are leading that demand and want to avoid residues from chemicals such as chlorine, Mr. Cope said.

Purfresh technology uses ozone, which is the world’s only 100 percent natural disinfectant, according to Purfresh. It is made from oxygen in the air and is 150 percent stronger than chlorine. Ozone is certified organic and approved by the Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It kills surface and airborne microorganisms and leaves no residue.

“Purfresh has a wonderful opportunity to meet the changing consumer demand,” Mr. Cope noted. “[Historically] there was not great involvement from the industry to meet that demand, and that is what Purfresh is all about: to provide solutions from pre-harvest to postharvest. At Fruit Logistica, we will be promoting a transportation product, Purfresh Transport.”

There is a need for Purfresh Transport because “the average piece of fruit travels 1,500 miles to a consumer,” said Mr. Cope. “The transportation segment is by far the longest and has the least visibility and [there can often be little] control in what happens in that leg of the [distribution] chain. There can be a tremendous investment in post-harvest and then very little” is done to monitor or control fresh food transportation operations. “Twenty [percent] to 30 percent of all fresh food shipped has physical damage” or decay that occurs in the transportation leg.

“What resonates well in the market is our ability to take Purfresh Transport into refrigerated shipping containers so there is complete transparency en route.”

The first of three major functions of Purfresh Transport technology is monitoring in real time the container’s location and levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are indicators of fruit respiration. Purfresh also monitors container temperature and relative humidity and sends notices regarding door breaches and g-forces, which show the container has been dropped or is vibrating. The power status of the refrigeration unit is also monitored by Purfresh Transport. All functions are recorded during transit and are available at the point of delivery.

Purfresh customers can use the Internet or their smartphones to see the condition of a container throughout the products’ journey. This is important, Mr. Cope said, because many potential problems can be avoided en route.

“When you look into the industry,” this technology “fundamentally changes everything. The burden used to be on the grower. The buyer would inspect the load and it was either good or bad. No one was really truly accountable.”

Purfresh now provides transportation intelligence to lend an “understanding all the way to the market” of what has happened that will affect quality, shelf life and food safety.

A second critical component of Purfresh Transport is to enhance the food- safety component with “active oxygen species that some call ozone.” This prevents decay by micro-organisms such as mold and yeast and kills micro- organisms like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

A third feature of Purfresh Transport is controlling fruit ripening by keeping ethylene levels in a container below 10 parts per billion.

Purfresh Transport has been in the market for two years and is already used by 17 of the 20 top shipping lines in world, according to Mr. Cope.

The technology has become more important because cargo ships have cut sailing speeds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut fuel costs.

Given this, in the face of increasing year-round global demand for fresh food, there is more food-safety risk because of longer transportation times, Mr. Cope said. “This is another reason our product is being used.”

Shippers in New Zealand, 45 days from northern Europe, are among those anxious to use the service, he said.

Purfresh’s list of fresh produce items that benefits from Purfresh Transport technology appears to match with all of the major commodities that are shipped. This includes the world’s largest-volume export fruit commodity, bananas. Mr. Cope said that Purfresh Transport is used by the banana industry in particular for high-value organic fruit. South American berries have been heavy users of Purfresh Transport this winter, he said, and citrus exports are using the Purfresh product to avoid blue and green mold.

“People will compare us to controlled atmosphere or modified atmosphere” shipping, he noted. “Those technologies are quite old” and do not kill organisms that create health hazards, he added.