Extending the shelf life of fresh Ontario fruits and vegetables

Bins full of apples - webBy Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario

Simcoe ON – New storage bins are currently being tested that could extend the shelf life of fresh Ontario produce. Watch the video.

It can be a real challenge for farmers to match their supply of fresh fruits and vegetables with consumer demand – especially at the height of the harvest when there is often an excess of fresh produce on the market, which can lower prices to growers.

The new bins, designed for use in cold storage facilities, may help solve that problem by extending the shelf life of perishable crops to give farmers more flexibility with their marketing decisions.

“Reducing oxygen levels slows down the ripening process of fruits and vegetables, and our module is an air-tight container that can store fresh produce in a low oxygen environment,” explains Vincent Nicoletis, General Manager of Janny MTCA, the Canadian subsidiary of the product’s French manufacturer, Janny MT.

The storage bin lids contain semi-permeable membranes that release carbon dioxide from the bin while maintaining a small concentration of oxygen inside, and can achieve concentration levels of three per cent for both oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The normal concentration in the atmosphere or in a cold storage room is approximately 20.9 per cent for oxygen and 0.1 per cent for carbon dioxide.modules in storage - webDr. Jennifer DeEll, Fresh Market Quality Program Lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is leading a two-year project to test the effectiveness of the modified atmosphere storage bin on Ontario crops.

In 2014, her team worked with asparagus, cherries, plums, apples, and pears, and this year trials are being conducted on blueberries at Blueberry Hill Estates near St. Williams, ON.

“Overall, we’re finding that the bins do extend the storage life. Blueberries also generally respond well to modified atmosphere storage, so we’re hoping to find the same thing this year with the blueberries as well,” she explains.

For this year’s trial, four of the new bins were filled with blueberries and placed into cold storage.

Each week for four weeks, a gas sample is taken from one of the bins to make sure it is providing the expected environment.

This bin is then opened and the fruit is removed and weighed before it is taken to a lab to be analyzed for acidity, colour, sugar, juice, firmness and overall quality.

sample of berries - webThe technology lends itself particularly well to smaller operations with on-farm markets or who sell to farmers’ markets.

For example, Nicoletis says the storage bin will give apple and pear growers more time to sell their crops on the higher value fresh market instead of having to look for wholesale or processing markets.

Vincent in the orchard - webGrowers of crops with a short shelf life, like asparagus, blueberries and cherries, can hold back part of their production to sell at a later date when the price might be higher, but without affecting product quality.

“The main benefit for consumers is fresh, local produce available for longer,” he adds.

The Janny MT module evaluation project has received funding from Ontario Agri-Food Technologies’ (OAFT) Rapid Response to Research Needs program. OAFT is supported by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

More information about the modified atmosphere storage modules can be found at www.jannymtca.com.