How To Extend the Shelf Life of Fresh Produce

How To Extend the Shelf Life of Fresh Produce

Benefits of Extending the Shelf Life of Fresh Produce

As the global population continues to grow, it is vital to ensure resources are used efficiently.   This is particularly true in the food and produce industry. Water, fertilization, and energy to produce or ship food are extensive. Resources that are too readily lost when post-harvest decay sets when produce is shipped, retailed or even in your home refrigerator. It is commonly known that over 40% of all harvested produce is reduced to trash—a waste percentage the world can no longer tolerate.

Reasons to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables include:

  • Resource optimization.
  • Higher quality produce.
  • Better brand reputation.
  • Less rejected shipments.
  • Higher margins.

Reasons for Lowered Shelf Life

The reasons for reduced shelf life help you determine how to extend it.

The main causes of reduced shelf life include:

  • Moisture loss (desiccation).
  • Physical harm (wounding or scaring).
  • Microbial growth (spoilage or food pathogens).
  • Extreme and changing temperatures.
  • Exposure to ethylene (a ripening accelerating gas).

Shelf-life extension interventions are generally designed to reverse at least one of these causes.

Ways to Extend Shelf Life of Fresh Produce

Shelf-life interventions are generally the same for most fruits and vegetables. They mainly rely on modest surface cleaning with rapid temperature reductions. With respect to temperature once the product is stored, it is imperative to retain optimal temperature throughout distribution, which is not always easy to do. In addition, some produce items benefit from additional interventions as described below.

Methods to Extend Shelf Life of Fresh Produce Include:

  • Active packaging that controls oxygen, carbon dioxide, and moisture levels
  • Maintain humidity using misting systems or packaging inserts in storage rooms.
  • Using modified-atmosphere packaging or storage systems
  • Antimicrobial treatments of produce surfaces (e.g. solution sanitizers or gas sanitizers, like FruitGard®or VegProTek®)
  • Improve methods of handling from the field to cold storage.
  • Ethylene control using room or in package absorbents, or MCP fumigation.

Control Humidity

Monitoring humidity is vital to the shelf life of fresh produce. In fact, high humidity improves moisture levels that are lost during refrigeration. As a result, fruit and vegetables last longer and shrink less.

Better Packaging and Modified-Atmosphere Packaging

One way to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables is to improve packaging. For instance, high quality packaging can slow microbial growth, respiration rate, and/or ripening. Modified atmosphere packaging maintains or decreases ambient oxygen within a package to levels that are conducive to extending shelf life. In general, oxygen levels of 1 – 5% are enough to delay oxidation of fresh produce. At concentrations below 8%, ripening and maturation can be delayed.

Proper Temperature Control During the Cold Chain

It is important to store fresh produce at a low temperature. Cool environments slow microbial growth and decay. A cold chain is a low temperature-controlled supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of refrigerated production, storage, and distribution activities, along with related equipment and logistics, which maintain quality through a desired low-temperature range. Many companies track shipment temperatures throughout the cold chain for indications of problems or potential loss.

Coatings of Each Item

Recently, natural, plant-based produce coatings are being evaluated for extending produce shelf life. In principle, coatings reduce oxygen exposure and moisture loss, similarly to active packaging systems. These solutions show promise for many smooth surface produce items, like avocados or citrus. However, they may not be a suitable intervention with more rough surfaced produce types.

Stores often use plastic coverings for produce items as not only a way to protect but also a convenient way to carry produce. But even simple plastic bagging is now under scrutiny by countries seeking to reduce plastic wastes.

New Varieties and GMOs

Competitive agriculture demands innovation. Consumers are often wowed by the latest shapes, tastes, and color of produce items. But often this innovation comes with a prices as new produce varieties can be less easily stored or shipped without excessive losses. Losses that drive up costs and reduce consumer acceptance.

Today there is a lot of focus on improving perishables through genetic modification. In the case of waste, GMOs often focus on reducing sensitivity to ethylene ripening gas or making the produce more resistant to decay organisms. While GMOs provide great advantages, concerns about people’s health and welfare related to these goods are ever increasing.

Consumers want better and fun produce but also want organic and locally sourced sustainable produce.

Antimicrobials

Antimicrobial chemistries for produce treatments come in many forms. Natural antimicrobials like spices, herbs, and plant extracts can extend shelf life. But natural does not mean safe when the chemicals are used to control or kill spoilage organisms. All chemicals need to be considered for safety uses when it comes to human consumption.

Oxidizing chemistries are often used to treat produce. These man-made miracles have long provided for safe treatments of produce. Chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, per-acetic acid are all commonly used cleaners for produce. One might be surprised to learn these chemicals are considered “organic” for the purposes of washing or sanitizing produce. FruitGard® is the latest and most sophisticated way to apply an oxidizing sanitizer on produce surfaces. It is a unique antimicrobial solution that is proven to extend shelf life and increase food safety.

Smart Stickers, MCP Sachets, or Potassium Permanganate Sachets

Ethylene is a well-known ripening gas. When it is released by produce during ripening, it can rise to levels that greatly accelerate the process. Ethylene absorbers or blocking chemicals are often applied to produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas – not all produce is. Blocking chemicals are absorbed on the produce surface and stop ethylene from attaching. All of these products help to extend shelf life.

StayFresh™ VegProTek®

Reducing food waste is crucial to the wellbeing of the environment and people. ICA offers a unique antimicrobial solution that extends the shelf life of vegetables. VegProTek® does this without leaving harmful byproducts on the produce. Plus, VegProTek® solves an unmet antimicrobial need for growers and can be used with other technologies, like ethylene absorbers, to provide a total solution.

Through a mix of natural zeolites and powerful oxidizing chemistry, we have developed a way to control the decay of fresh produce.

Simply put, our StayFresh™ VegProTek® inside fresh or processed produce storage containers, refrigerators, and dry cellars.

How To Increase the Shelf Life of Food Products

Business owners and consumers inherently understand the importance of produce shelf life. It affects everyone’s bottom line. But as importantly, there is a sense of regret at having to discard what was once nutritious food. However, there are good ways to increase the shelf life of food products such as:

  • Freezing.
  • Heating and canning.
  • Drying and preserving.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing produce surfaces with surfactants or oxidizing chemicals.
  • Modifying storage atmosphere using packaging or controlled rooms.
  • Irradiating produce surfaces with light, plasma, or radiation.

Freeze

As most people already know, chilling or freezing produce is a common, simple way to extend shelf life. This method slows spoilage, organism growth, and stagnates other ripening processes.

Heat

Like freezing products, heating and canning certain types of produce extends shelf life.  However, this method often changes food chemistry with respect to taste and firmness. It often requires the addition of preserving chemicals or changes in acidity.

Dry

Drying (or dehydration) is a great way to preserve produce by transforming foods into nutritious snacks. Drying preserves by removing water, thus stopping bacteria and enzymes from degrading the food.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Produce is typically cleaned before it is packaged or processed. Surfactants and sanitizers are used to reduce physical dirt that can harbor spoilage or pathogenic organisms. Sanitizers are often oxidizing chemicals that can be put into dump tanks, sprayed on, etc. Cleaning starts at the packing house and is often repeated at retail and at home.

Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) is the imposition of a gas atmosphere. Typically, it contains an inert gas, like nitrogen, combined with an active antimicrobial gas, like carbon dioxide. In most cases, MAP is put upon a packaged food product or in large scale storage to extend its shelf life. MAP can significantly extend the shelf life of food products, thus prolonging the distribution chain and diminishing the need for centralized production. Finally, MAP provides an added barrier against spoilage and can therefore improve shelf life and enhance product safety.

Irradiation

Irradiation is a process in which food products are exposed to ionized radiation. Further, this method ensures food safety and extends shelf life by limiting a product’s exposure to insects and microorganisms. For instance, canning fresh produce and pasteurizing milk are a few examples.

How To Keep Vegetables Fresh Longer in the Fridge

Ways to keep produce fresh longer in the fridge include:

  • Crisper drawers designed to optimize humidity and temperatures.
  • Optimized cold temperature.
  • Separate produce types – some produce shed ethylene ripening gas faster than others.
  • Novel packaging systems like sealing plastic tubs, films or wraps
  • StayFresh™ VegProTek® Sachets – designed to eliminate ripening gasses, moderate humidity levels, and stop decay.

Crisper Drawers

In short, a crisper drawer is specifically designed to extend the shelf life of produce in the fridge. Plus, some of them allow you to adjust the humidity level. Usually, opening causes less humidity while closing leads to more humidity.

Cold Temperatures

To extend the shelf life of vegetables, the fridge temperature should be set between 33°F and 40°F. Low temperatures slow ripening and reduce microbial growth. As a result, vegetables stay fresh longer.

Separate Produce

Produce is sensitive to ethylene gas, which quickens the ripening process. Some produce releases ethylene gas faster than others. Apples, bananas, melons, pears, and peaches are ethylene producers. Keeping fast producing produce separate from lower producers can often help extend the shelf life of those items. If you have two crisper drawers, consider dedicating one to fruits and one to vegetables.

Some produce types are moisture rich. As these products are placed in storage, they respire releasing some water and affecting the overall relative humidity of the system. Higher relative humidity is good for some produce but not others. For example, keeping onions away from potatoes extends potato shelf life because moisture from the onions can cause potatoes to sprout.

Finally, whole foods last longer than cut foods, which should always be stored in the fridge.

StayFresh™ VegProTek®

StayFresh™ VegProTek® is the perfect solution for keeping vegetables fresh and was specifically designed to work at retail, in food service operations, or in your home. This incredible little product is baking soda on steroids. It absorbs the compounds, like ethylene gas, that cause produce to decay, destroys odors that cause off flavors, and helps regulate relative humidity in crisper drawers or containers. Simply take the sachet out of the outer packaging. Then place it in a convenient location inside the cooler, fridge, crisper drawer, or deli/cheese drawer. However, this amazing little sachet isn’t just for the fridge. You can also use it for dry storage on potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and citrus. Learn more about how our science and how this unique solution extends the shelf life of produce. Do your part to reduce food waste.

How To Keep Fruits Fresh Longer in the Fridge

Ways to keep fruit fresh longer in the fridge include:

  • Optimized packaging or no packaging at all if you have access to a well-designed crisper drawer.
  • A crisper drawer – make sure the temperatures and humidity are set properly for your produce mix.
  • Keep ethylene-producing produce separate from more senate types.
  • FruitGard® – use this one, simple solution to address all the key challenges of decay.

Hacks to keep fruit fresh longer in the fridge include:

  • Apples: Soak slices in salt water (1/2 tsp).
  • Avocado: Squirt with lemon.
  • Berries: Rinse with vinegar.
  • Bananas: Wrap stems in plastic wrap.
  • Lemons: Avoid cutting in half.
  • Melons: Cut into large slices.

Shelf Life of Fruits

Shelf Life of Fruits
Fruit Name Shelf Life Storage Method
Apples 3 – 4 weeks Soak slices in salt water. Place in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging. Then store inside a crisper drawer.
**Keep separate from other fruits due to high levels of ethylene**
Apricots (ripe) 4 – 5 days Ripen on the counter. Then store in a plastic bag inside a crisper drawer.
Avocado (ripe) 3 – 5 days Ripen on the counter. Squirt with lemon. Store in plastic bag. Then put in a crisper drawer.
Blueberries 1 – 2 weeks Rinse with vinegar. Put in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging. Then store inside a crisper drawer.
Cherries 4 – 7 days Put in plastic bags with tiny vents.
Cranberries 3 – 4 weeks Rinse with vinegar. Put in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging. Then store inside a crisper drawer.
Grapefruit 2 – 3 weeks Put in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging inside a crisper drawer.
Grapes 5 – 7 days Put in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Guava (ripe) 3 – 4 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer
Kiwi (ripe) 5 – 7 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer
Lemon 2 – 3 weeks Avoid cutting in half. Put in plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Mango (ripe) 5 – 7 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Melons (ripe) 7 – 10 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Nectarine (ripe) 3 – 5 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Oranges 2 – 3 weeks Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Peaches (ripe) 3 – 5 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Pear (ripe) 5 – 7 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Pineapple 3 – 5 days Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Plums (ripe) 3 – 5 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Pomegranate 1 – 2 months Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Prickly Pear (ripe) 1 – 3 days Ripen on the counter. Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Raspberries 2 – 3 days Put in plastic bags with tiny vents or original packaging. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Rhubarb 5 – 7 days Put in a plastic bag. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Strawberries 3 – 5 days Put in a plastic bag with tiny vents. Then store in a crisper drawer.
Watermelon 2 weeks Cut into large slices. Then wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
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