Harvesting, packing and transport of strawberries from the field to packhouse facilities can take hours. Delays before cooling are detrimental for fruit quality and shelf-life, especially when the weather is warm. The PQC are working as part of a consortium to develop a portable chiller that can be used in the field to ensure rapid and efficient cooling of fruit. The consortium is led by JDCooling Ltd, and includes Scorpion Vision Ltd and Berry Gardens Ltd.
This project has been funded through Innovate UK and is now in its third season. An experimental cooling system has been set up at the PQC facilities to allow detailed studies for the optimisation of cooling protocols. This led to the design of an in-field chiller (CoolBerry rig) initially tested for chilling one pallet, and now extended with capacity to chill three pallets. The three pallet version is undergoing the first tests this season.
In addition to the advantages of rapid cooling to improve quality and extend storage life, the CoolBerry rig design allows loading and unloading of whole pallets, which reduces the need for repeated construction and deconstruction of the pallet. This constitutes a very significant saving in labour, which is especially important at this time of Covid-19 and Brexit.
The PQC is working with Ozone Industries Ltd and MAPCAP Ltd to optimise a system for using ozone flushing of retail packs to extend the shelf-life of strawberries. Ozone; O3, is one of the most powerful oxidants on earth, and very effective for destroying micro-organisms (fungi, bacteria and viruses). Ozone is not persistent, as it reverts to oxygen, leaving no residues, thus avoiding the regulatory and other issues posed by conventional post-harvest biocide treatments. Another advantage of using gaseous ozone is that it avoids wetting the fruit which would encourage fungal growth.
In 2020, with funding from Innovate UK a series of pilot studies were carried out using an experimental system which demonstrated that ozone flushing of retail packs could extend the shelf-life of UK strawberries by 1-2 days. The consortium are now applying for funding to develop the technology into a cost-effective commercial system that can be incorporated directly into the packing line. We are also testing the potential of this technology for a range of other commodities, including raspberries, tomatoes and grapes.
We would like to thank Berry Gardens and Berry World for their help with this work.
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