Putting an end to wasted fruit

It's Fresh! invented a smart filter to extend quality and freshness

It's a familiar frustration in any kitchen: pears and avocados that seem to turn overripe within hours, and berries and peaches that go off long before the 'best before' date. The cause of these annoyances is ethylene, a natural gas some fruit and vegetables produce during the ripening process. A smart filter that removes ethylene gas is now proving to be a breakthrough in the food supply chain.

Temperature, humidity and stress are all well-known threats to fresh produce. Factors like these can cause crops to spoil before they've even reached the consumer. On top of that, ethylene is another factor that can have a devastating effect on fruit and vegetables on their way from farmer to customer. But if it's up to the Cranfield, UK-based tech company It's Fresh!, the ethylene effect is to be reduced dramatically. Its technology is already in use by growers, distributors and retailers all over the world.

Best value for money

"Refrigeration had a big impact in making fresh produce last longer," says Simon Lee, Founder Director of It's Fresh!. "But even though we have refrigeration, there is still avoidable waste in the food supply chain – and it is unacceptable. Fruit that's being transported from the southern to the northern hemisphere gets shipped in temperature-controlled containers. But what happens before and after shipment? Our technology can stay with the crops as they travel from grower to retailer and into the home. It extends quality freshness and flavour, giving the consumer the best value for money and the confidence to buy more fruit more often. It’s a win-win situation for everybody."

'Grabbing it like a magnet'

Ethylene causes various physiological changes during the ripening process, such as softening and changes in texture, flavour and colour. It's Fresh! has invented a filter that absorbs ethylene and therefore keeps fruit and vegetables in peak condition for a longer period of time. The filter is a wafer-thin membrane that can easily be used throughout the entire supply chain; from grower to retailer and – ultimately – into the consumer's kitchen. Simon Lee: "We remove ethylene by grabbing it like a magnet and locking it away. It's a truly unique process."

Knock-on effect

Simon Lee points out that a third of the food produced globally becomes waste, with approximately 45 percent of all fruit eventually being thrown away. "Now think of all the precious resources needed to grow all this fruit that gets discarded; it takes almost two litres of water to grow one strawberry, and almost thirteen litres to grow a tomato. Add to that the labour and fuel to pick, pack and ship the crops around the world, and you'll realise the knock-on effect of all this global waste is frightening."

Increased demand

In 2050, the world population will have increased by two billion people to over nine billion. To meet the increased demand for food, global food production will have to increase by at least 60 percent. Reducing food waste is an important issue in this respect, and It's Fresh! is destined to contribute by developing smart and sustainable products. The ethylene filter is just one its products. "There are lots of other ways to extend the quality and freshness of produce," says Simon Lee. "We’re currently working on a number of exciting projects, like an edible organic coating that stops the dehydration of fruits and vegetables as they get transported across the world. To have an edible organic alternative to the chemical coatings that currently exist, makes perfect sense in the ever increasing quest for greater transparency of food labelling. The product is in trials now."

Educate & demonstrate

The It’s Fresh! ethylene filter is already in use in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Australasia. But Simon Lee wants his product to reach even more growers, distributors and suppliers. "We are launching a ground-breaking technology. If you’re doing that, you need to educate the market. We’re talking to farmers whose livelihoods depend on harvesting their crops and getting the maximum yield each and every year. It’s all about demonstrating how they can use our technology to their advantage."