A skin for the skin: the ‘Edipeel’ coating is to give fruit and vegetable a longer shelf life. Photo: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann
Edipeel: Spray it fresh!
A distribution issue
Blueberries last for some 30 to 40 days on average after being harvested. Who of us, however, has ever experienced this? Even when you put them in the fridge right after purchasing they will only look fresh and taste like fruit for two weeks at best. After all, lots of fresh produce has already covered a long distance before ending up on local supermarket shelves.
Add to this the fact that the products often already perish during production, transport, storage or processing. In southern Africa about half the fruit and vegetable production is lost this way. Often, this is also due to missing infrastructure on site, which is why the produce already perishes on the tree or in the field. In view of the 840 million people suffering from hunger throughout the world solutions like the one proposed by James Rogers sound promising.
Rogers is a materials researcher by profession and works with steel and plastics for solar cells. But since 2012 he has sealed fresh produce with a natural protective film thereby extending its natural life. And this is how it all came about: on his way to work through lush, green fruit and vegetable-growing estates in California he listened to a report about world hunger and wondered whether this was really unavoidable. It can’t be a production issue, he thought, so it can only be a distribution problem.
Fruit and vegetable require different conditions for longer durability. This is why there are different ‘Edipeel’ products. Photo: Apeel Science
Strengthen the natural protective skin
Very similar to his work protecting steel against corrosion, he looked for a solution to give food a longer shelf-life – and found a product called ‘Edipeel’; a coating made of vegetable waste such as tomato, stems or fruit kernels. In his home town, Santa Barbara in California, it was easy to source this “waste” from wine production and this is how the start-up called ‘Apeel Science’ quickly developed into a company employing 82 staff with venture capital of US$ 42 million. The US company is supported by Silicon Valley investors and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to name but two sponsors. With their help a first project could be financed in Africa. Manioc and mangoes are coated with ‘Edipeel’ making the fruit formerly only usable for farmers’ own consumption durable enough to take them to the nearest market.
Fresh produce spends most of its life being transported and in storage. Photo: #143024244 | Source: kokliang1981 / fotolia.com
To ensure longer shelf life for food a plant extract is processed into a powder that farmers can mix with water and then spray onto fruit and vegetables. This barrier layer controls the amounts of water and carbon dioxide released by fruit and vegetables and also how much oxygen is “let in”. These three factors are the main reasons for decay.
“We use food to make food durable,” says James Rogers, CEO of Apeel Science.
Packaging can protect food from soiling, damage and detrimental environmental impacts such as light, oxygen or moisture while avoiding loss of aroma and vitamins. Photo: #79822092 | Source: rufar / fotolia.com
For each food type there is a specific product because citrus fruit have a different micro climate than strawberries or avocados, for example. ‘Edipeel’ is edible, tasteless and invisible. And the protective skin cannot be felt either – unlike wax.
At present, the spray can double the shelf life. In future, it will be possible to even triple or quadruple it. ‘Edipeel’ – this is the manager’s stated aim – is to render refrigeration containers for food transport superfluous in future. This improves taste and saves energy. So far the protective skin is approved in the USA, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan and China.