Alternatives to chemicals for sustaining the life span of fruit and vegetables, improving the quality of seed and reducing risk of contamination in food processing are to be discussed at the first Agri-TechE event “Keeping it clean with agri-tech innovation” 19th January.
Activated air, electrolysed water, free radicals – are among the innovations to be discussed for the first time.
Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE selected the topic as hygiene is at top of mind at the moment: “The use of water and chemicals for cleaning and decontamination is a major cost to the food industry at every stage from seed to sandwich; it is also an environmental cost. Within our innovation ecosystem we can see interesting alternatives emerging that work with natural processes to reduce the power of pathogens, offering a more effective and sustainable approach.”
Alternatives to chemicals
Speaker Debbie Rees of NRI, explains that unprocessed fruit, vegetables and root crops are essentially alive, her focus is reducing the amount of fresh produce that is wasted between field, supermarket and home:
“We are interested in anything that allows us to monitor and sustain the lifespan of fresh produce without harming it. Loss comes from biological changes and these can be measured, for example, the respiration rate of potatoes in storage or the stress created when apples stored at low temperature become short of oxygen. Chlorophyll fluorescence is another useful measure that can be used to understand ripening as vegetables lose their chlorophyll as they age and fruits cease photosynthesis.”
“Unripe strawberries have a host of defence mechanisms to prevent fungal pathogens, but as they ripen, they go soft and sugar levels increase, increasing risk of pathogen attack. So, you can reduce rotting either by reducing pathogenic contamination or by slowing down ripening.”
Debbie’s research has revealed strawberries often remain in the heat for four hours before reaching the packhouse, so cooling in the field is a possible intervention.
Another is the use of ozone, a very reactive chemical that can destroy viruses, as well as unicellular organisms such as bacteria, and then revert to oxygen. One experiment involves flushing punnets of strawberries with ozone before sealing in film. Ozone is not suitable for use with all produce, but under controlled conditions it offers many benefits as Debbie will explain.
David Goosey of Ozo Innovations is focused on the Food-to-Go market – ready meals and pre-packed sandwiches – where processing equipment needs cleaning and decontamination from allergens such as nuts, as they switch between recipes.
David explains: “Hygiene accounts for up to 12% of the cost of food processing. Typically, food manufacturers use hot water at 40-60°C to sanitise equipment and then need to re-chill the environment before use. Our solution uses cold water and is effective at an ambient temperature, meaning Ozo can help to cut both energy usage and costs.”
The company’s technology uses hypochlorite, created by electrolysing a saline solution. It is an effective cleaner and disinfectant that reverts back to salt and water after use. It is currently being trialled with a major UK food manufacturer and David will share more about its capabilities at the event.
Seed treatment that boosts germination
The Agri-TechE event will also see the announcement of a new highly effective, additive free approach to seed sterilisation that offers a fourfold increase in the germination rate of wheat. The new approach which uses ‘activated air’ to destroy bacteria and fungi on seed also has potential for improving storage of high value seeds such as tomato and basil that are currently untreatable as they germinate on contact with water.
Agri-Tech Explore: Keeping it clean with agri-tech innovation, is being held virtually on Tuesday 19th January 2021 from 2:00 – 4:00 pm.