Packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables

Helle  Allermann

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Packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables

The market for fresh fruit and vegetables evolves rapidly. The modern consumer increasingly demands convenience products that are prepared or ready to eat. Traditional convenience products are washed and processed fruit and vegetables, which may be mixed with other fruits and vegetables.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are living plant tissue, which, although harvested, undergoes a number of physiological processes that affect product quality and durability. Processed fruit and vegetables have a very short durability because handling and preparation increase the speed at which the plant tissue breaks down.

However, shelf life can increase considerably if the products are stored cold packed in Modified Atmosphere (MA). In fresh fruit and vegetables, MA is naturally created because the packaging material possesses barrier properties against oxygen and carbon dioxide, while the product consumes oxygen and develops carbon dioxide. The obtained MA ratio in packaged fresh fruit and vegetables therefore depends on product, packaging material and the interaction between product, packaging material and the surrounding environment. It is in this intersection that the idea of ​​product-adapted packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables has arisen.

Product-adapted packaging

Product-based modified atmosphere packing, also called Equilibrium Modified Atmosphere Packaging (E-MAP), means that the product itself creates the optimal composition of the atmosphere in conjunction with the packaging. Initially there is atmospheric air in the package, but the product naturally modifies the atmosphere by using oxygen and separating carbon dioxide. If the packaging is optimized according to the rate of respiration, there will at some point be a balance between the oxygen consumption of the product and the amount of oxygen transported into the package. If the temperature is kept constant around the product at the same time, this equilibrium can be controlled to be at a low oxygen level where the product's respiratory rate is low. This will extend the product's durability. It may be necessary for highly-responsive products to micro-perforate the packaging to ensure that enough oxygen can be transported through the package.

E-MAP is made for fresh fruit and vegetables with high respiration, including processed fruit and vegetables, because respiration rate is reduced and quality and durability are improved. E-MAP can also remedy certain physiological damage and microbiological growth.

How can the Danish Technological Institute help you?

In Plastics and Packaging Technology we have developed a model for optimizing packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables and offer interested fruit and vegetables growers, to assist with optimization of their packaging.

We have recently finalized two development projects about optimized packaging of fruit and vegetables:

• Kvalipak, improved quality of fresh fruit and vegetables with active packaging and improved package solutions.

• Tempvent, development of packaging film that can compensate for the large variations in fruit and vegetable oxygen consumption during the varying storage temperatures.