Apeel: Natural plant-derived coatings that extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and end reliance on plastic packaging

Food technology start-up Apeel Sciences has developed plant-derived coatings that fresh food growers, suppliers, and retailers can use to keep produce fresh, heralding in a natural solution to packaging and an end to single-use plastics.

Made of plant-derived materials such as lipids and glycerolipids that exist already in the peels, seeds, and pulp of fruits and vegetables, Apeel adds a layer of plant-derived protection to the surface of fresh produce to slow water loss and oxidation —-the factors that cause spoilage.

Apeel is a plant-derived solution that doubles to triples the shelf life of many types of fresh produce – reducing reliance on refrigeration, plastic packaging, and controlled atmosphere throughout the supply chain.

Key factors that determine the shelf life of produce, such as water loss and ripening rates, are governed by their surface properties, including native wax composition, wax crystal density and size, roughness, and porosity.

Apeel creates an exceptionally thin, edible “peel” on the outside of produce, creating an optimal microclimate inside fruits and vegetables that slows the rate of water loss and oxidation – the primary causes of spoilage.

The all natural, plant-derived coating is sent to distributors in powdered form which can then be mixed up with water at the packaging centre. Apeel can be applied on wet fruit and vegetables by spray, dip, or brush on methods, and then allowed to dry.

Apeel Sciences say: “We’ve finally arrived at a new frontier where we can use natural materials and design principles to produce food in a way that works with nature — rather than against it. And it turns out, plants provide all the ingredients we need to keep produce at its best from vine to kitchen.

“Every fruit and vegetable has a “peel” to protect it from drying out and rotting. Peels are so important, every plant on land has one — from raspberries to roses. The materials that make up skins and peels are ubiquitous and we eat them every day. We use the building blocks of peels to protect fresh produce.”

Apeel Sciences is the brainchild of James Rogers, who while working on his Ph.D. in Materials discovered that there isn’t an issue with growing food required, but rather spoilage being the culprit. That said, the Ph.D. student wondered if a barrier could be created for food that would slow down the rate of spoilage and discovered that the materials needed already exist in every bite of food we eat.

Currently around half of all food grown ends up in a landfill.

Inspired by nature’s strategy for preservation, James and the Apeel Sciences team went to work building a barrier out of edible plant materials that would slow down the rate of spoilage.

Apeel Sciences was founded in 2012 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Today, Apeel Sciences has developed products for dozens of USDA Organic Certified and conventional produce categories, and the company works with partners ranging from smallholder farmers and local organic growers to the world’s largest food brands to make better quality, more sustainable produce possible.

Apeel was launched in the US in2018, where it has helped to more than halve supermarkets’ waste of fresh produce including avocados, apples, asparagus, limes and lemons.

Avocados coated in Apeel, which helps the fruit stay ripe for twice as long, went on sale in Germany and Denmaek for the first time last year.

The technology, which was approved for use in the EU by the European commission last June, is already being tested in the UK by Asda. The supermarket chain is expected to launch UK consumer trials in 2020 after an experiment last autumn on mandarins from Peru and tests on cucumbers, which could dispense with the need for plastic wrapping.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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