A new packaging technology promises to help fruit growers lengthen shipping times at the same time as getting fruit to market in a fresher condition.
The new shipping containers combine special boxes, cooling techniques and an anti-microbial compound, allowing shipping times of up to a month, with the fruit arriving in a fresh-picked condition at its destination. Friday, Agriculture Canada announced they were investing $261,000 in helping Innovative Food Systems and the scientists at the Pacific Agriculture Research Centre complete development of the product.
“Our producers need cutting-edge technologies that will help them remain competitive in the global marketplace,” said Okanagan Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, in making the funding announcement.
“We are creating and supporting a major economic sector in B.C. We are delivering on consumers’ demands for freshness and environmental responsibility. And we are opening up new markets, so that future generations of farmers are well set to compete in global markets.”
Dr. Perry Lidster, president and CEO of Innovative Food Systems, explained the packaging technology allows them to cool a closed and lidded box of fruit as quickly as they could without a lid on it. The addition of the anti-microbial agent that activates at high temperatures or high humidity helps prevent the development of fungi, mould and bacteria, ensuring the safety and quality of the fruit.
“We are able to withstand temperature abuses like product being left on the tarmac at an airport or on an unrefrigerated dock at a retail store and we are able to ensure that product will not decay, that there are no food-borne pathogens that are developing on that,” said Lidster. “We are providing a premium ripe product that is actually harvested at a more mature stage rather than the dark green that you see on a tomato or peach; it’s actually gone through some of its initial ripening process. So you are going to get something that we can sustain for a period of 25 to 35 days through the distribution system and have it ripe within a day at distribution centres.”
Cost savings for producers come both from being able to use more economical shipping methods — like ocean or rail freight, rather than air — and fresher fruit at the destination means more sales, with less claims for damaged fruit.
“If you send cherries to market with dried stems because there was an interruption in the cold chain, then you have a product that is not going to sell,” said Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association. He uses the Taiwanese market as an example. “They want large fruit, they want fresh-looking fruit, they want the green stems. If this preserves the greenness and freshness of the stem and also prevents the fruit from dehydrating … you’ve really enhanced the value of your product and the quality of the product at destination.”
Sardinha is pleased with the concept, though cautious about the long-term costs.
“This is pretty exciting. It will be interesting to see what cost factor there will be for the packaging over the standard packaging now,” he said. “If it is offset by the savings in freight and then some, then I can see some real possibilities there.”
The horticultural sector is vital to Canada’s agriculture industry and plays an important role in the economy. In 2010, the Canadian horticultural industry brought in close to $6 billion in farm cash receipts and generated exports of nearly $3.6 billion.
This project is funded under the Developing Innovative Agri-Products initiative, which is delivered by the Growing Forward framework under the Agri-Innovations program, a $158 million five-year program announced to support industry-led science and technology projects.