New scheme prevents perishables from spoiling

It is an economic scandal. According to data provided by the World Bank and other sources, roughly 30% of all agricultural products spoil between field and shelf (see here). However, a brand-new study shows that perishables can be kept fresh over longer periods and thus be saved from ending up in a garbage can. Implementing the findings in daily operations will reduce the throw-away rate, benefiting producers, transporters, and consumers alike.

The above-mentioned alarmingly high rate of spoiled goods was highlighted by leading representatives of logistics companies, such as Kuehne+Nagel, during this year’s Fruit Logistica, held in Berlin from 07-09FEB24. The spoilage causes are very diverse: technical deficits, excessively long transit times of perishables from the field to the airport or seaport, or incorrect handling by ground service providers, are just three possible factors, for example.

Hopefully rotten fruit like this will soon be a thing of the past thanks to new handling methods – courtesy: freepick.com

Storage turned upside-down
The spoilage process has now been successfully minimized or even completely contained at one interface, at least: in warehouses.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t practitioners or established logistics experts who developed the ‘spoilage prevention program’, but a group of students from the Bavarian Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences. The academic title of their study: ‘Reduction of storage losses in organically produced fruit and vegetables through optimized storage management based on sensor-supported and adaptive models for predicting quality development and shelf life.’ The solution they presented contrasts the quirky title of their analysis: They claim that waste can be prevented by rearranging the order in which goods are stored and retrieved.

Source image: CFG/hs

Avoiding waste
As a rule, wholesalers work according to the rigid ‘first in, first out’ principle. This means that the goods delivered first – regardless of their freshness – are the first to leave the warehouse. In contrast, with the ‘first-expired-first-out’ principle tested by the students, the quality of the perishables should determine their turnover and retrieval, and not the time of storage. By implementing this principle, the waste of perishables could be minimized, as data obtained during the tests has evidenced.
In order to determine the properties of the perishables that determine their quality and shelf life, the researchers tested near-infrared spectrometers and used them to monitor the products. They also developed flexible sensor networks to closely monitor the environmental conditions in the warehouse. The effect of changes in temperature and air humidity on berries, broccoli and similar fresh products were measured and registered.

Maintaining product integrity
Numerous studies have proven that freshness and taste are the most important quality characteristics of fruit and vegetables. During storage, the harvested produce changes its appearance and consistency, and tends to quickly lose its taste and properties. This is particularly challenging for producers, wholesalers, and distributors. Consumers who buy cherries, pears, beans, or asparagus expect them to have an intense flavor and a particularly high level of health-supporting properties. Especially if they come from organic farming.
The aim of all parties involved in the supply chain must therefore be to maintain the quality of organic fruit and vegetables during storage, and to minimize waste. Storage losses are often higher for organically produced fruit and vegetables than for conventional produce. This is another result of the students’ research.
The authors point out that their findings are only a first step towards extending the life cycle of fresh produce. In their opinion, the technologies and processes developed in the project are not yet ready for everyday use. Yet even so, they already offer interesting approaches for optimizing storage management in wholesale and intermediate trade as well as during air, ocean, and road transport.

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