The application of ESOL to fruit and vegetables controls pathogen contamination and increases the shelf life of the product.
It is estimated that about 20% of all fruits and vegetables produced is lost each year due to spoilage. Contamination may take place during any stage of the crops life; harvesting, handling, transportation or storage. Mechanical damage may increase the susceptibility to decay and the growth of microorganisms may take place. Washing process in contaminated water may moisten surfaces enough to permit entry and growth of organisms. Storage in contaminated containers, use of contaminated dressing materials, possible contact with decayed products, unhygienic handling, fly infestation etc. will also cause an accelerated rate of spoilage.
Reducing waste while maintaining or enhancing food quality requires intervention at all stages of the supply chain. The innovation and the adoption of new practices are vital to meet these reduction targets.
Microbial management is one of the most important aspects of post-harvest fresh produce production and processing. To reduce waste, whilst improving both quality and safety, it is vital that the levels of bacteria, spoilage organisms and environmental and human pathogens within the food supply chain are minimised. This, combined with the desire of consumers and regulators to move away from the use of hazardous chemicals within the food injury creates a key challenge.
In 2013 Bridge embarked on a project with a number of partners (including major fruit and vegetable growers in the UK), funded by DEFRA through the Technology Strategy Board, aiming to improve commercial practices in maintaining produce quality and reducing waste within the food supply chain. ESOL was delivered using fogging technology to fresh fruit and vegetables to reduce the number of microorganisms that could cause spoilage (reducing food wastage).
The approach reduces the presence of microorganisms capable of causing foodborne diseases, increasing food safety. ESOL was chosen for this project specifically due to the solution ultimately reverting to salt and water after use, and so was compatible with wide-spread use as a surface disinfectant within industry processes.
Lab based and large scale trials have already been completed and it is believed the use of this technology to control food associated microorganisms will result in significant positive impacts on the food supply chain. The full results of the project are published later this year.