Ripening sticker to be tested on Washington apples
August 02, 2006
by Joan Murphy
A sticker that could tell whether an apple is ripe in the orchard and packinghouse is being tested this fall and could be marketed as early as next year.
Mark Riley, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona, teamed with Arizona psychologist Robert Klein years ago to develop a new device they hope is different from other technologies that have proven to be expensive or time-consuming in measuring fruit ripeness.
The marker, created by the fledgling company RediRipe, detects ethylene gas - the chemical released during ripening - and turns the patent-pending sticker from white to blue.
With funding from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the sticker will be tested on apples in Washington during the 12-week harvest, starting later this month. The commission is also hoping to test the sticker on stored fruit and at retail, said Jim McFerson, manager of the commission.
"We aim to work first with growers, then connect to grocers and then to consumers," said Mr. Riley. "Each will have different needs and requirements of performance and sensitivity of the device. This likely would need to be tailored to each [fruit] or several types of fruits to have varying degrees of sensitivity."
The device, if proven effective, could be used for storage handlers and shippers who handle the apples throughout the cold chain. Right now, workers use natural indicators such as firmness to determine if apples are ripe. A simple, accurate and affordable device could save the apple industry money. Even before shipping, U.S. apple growers lose $300 million annually due to inefficiencies in determining ripeness on the tree and post-harvest, said Mr. Riley.
But there are still bugs that need to be worked out, said Mr. McFerson; it may or may not make it to commercial success. Other devices are in the works, including a hand-held sensor, which is also being supported with grower dollars.
These are the types of technologies that Washington tree fruit growers hope will receive research dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whichdid pitch in funds through a small business grant.
When asked whether the industry could end up with more losses from a ripe fruit indicator, he said the consumer deserves it. "If consumers expect quality, we should provide it," said Mr. McFerson. "We can't afford to pick, store and sell fruit and not meet consumer expectation."
UC professors share innovations with PMA audience
August 01, 2006
by Brian Gaylord
MONTEREY, CA -- Technological innovations will play a key role in improving the taste of fresh produce and in marshaling produce through the supply chain, according to two University of California- Davis professors who spoke during the recent Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference & Expo, here.
James Thompson, a professor in the school's biological and agricultural engineering department, and Michael Reid, a professor in the school's department of plant sciences, presented a foreshadowing into the future during a workshop held at the PMA conference.
Some innovations the two professors presented are in their infancy and others in the concept or design stage.
The two professors said that customers want taste, texture, reliability, value/price, freshness, ripeness, safety and appearance. But Mr. Reid said that taste life and nutrition life "are shorter than appearance life." Vitamin C and antioxidants deplete as fresh produce ages. Chlorophyll sensors and continuous monitoring of ethylene and carbon dioxide levels will be commonly used to gauge quality in the future.
"The apricot industry is going away because we harvest the fruit prematurely," Mr. Reid said, adding that new ripening technology featuring molecular regulation of ripening helps address such problems.
One packaging innovation being introduced is a "hammock pack" clamshell that suspends fruit above the bottom of the container. UC-Davis developed the hammock pack and enlisted Pomona, CA-based F-D-S Manufacturing Co. Inc. to manufacture it. This year, Southern Oregon Sales will distribute its pears in the hammock pack, Mr. Thompson said.
UC-Davis made arrangements to test the hammock pack with avocados and stone fruit, Mr. Thompson said. As a food-safety measure, the fresh produce industry has increased its use of packaging such as clamshell packaging, he said.
Mr. Thompson told the audience of a new instrument that is a battery-operated, hand-held unit that acts as an "electronic nose." Additionally, research is under way on miniaturized instrumentation that will measure for sugar and other taste components. Sensors to check for taste "are a few years away," he said. Such technology will enable the industry to grow "high-flavor cultivars" and "genetically modified cultivars" as it improves on its varieties, he said.
The two professors argued that genetically modified organisms have their place in food production.
"We've all been eating a lot of GMOs," Mr. Thompson said, adding that Europe and China "aren't protesting" the use of GMOs much now, as had been the case in the past.
"In 20 years there's no doubt GMOs will be a standard tool," Mr. Thompson said.
In the area of information-intensive product handling, Mr. Thompson said that new information technologies would transform quality management. "There will be a transparent post-harvest handling," Mr. Thompson said.
Included in the technology mix will be "active RFID," Mr. Thompson said. The next generation of RFID has batteries in it and tests for temperature and humidity and gases such as ethylene. "We'll be able to measure post-harvest life and know who's to blame," Mr. Thompson said.