- Vegetables: other
- Farm Business Management: value added
The million-dollar economic losses from unsold NJ squashes are impairing the sustainability of squash farming in NJ. To rebrand and increase the marketability and utilization of NJ squashes, we will develop squash-noodle-based value-added low-carb healthy meal solutions, packed in 100% recyclable trays with functional and convenient microperforated peel-reseal lidding films. We will address microbial safety in the processing of squash noodles, optimize the performance of peel-reseal lidding films, and design Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) with microperforated peel-reseal films to retain the quality of squash noodles and extend the shelf-life. We envision our product to be nutritious, healthy, and able to provide additional functions including branding, convenience, freshness, quality, shelf-life extension, and visibility. Therefore, NJ farmers can rebrand and increase the marketability of local squashes by connecting them with catchphrases including “convenient”, “ready-to-cook”, “ready-to-eat”, “fresh”, “quality”, “recyclable”, “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable”, etc. To have a long-term impact on sustainability of squash farming in NJ, we will collaborate with HelloFresh to receive feedback from customers and farmers, develop more varieties of products based on the feedback, and design commercially viable processes for large-scale manufacturing. We will also publish our work in internationally recognized journals to have impacts on future researchers and wider agricultural communities.
Project objectives from proposal:
The main objective is to rebrand and increase the marketability and utilization of squashes grown in NJ by developing squash-noodle-based value-added low-carb healthy meal solutions, packed in 100% recyclable trays with functional and convenient microperforated peel-reseal lidding films. To achieve this objective, our project will overcome the challenges in processing and packaging squash noodles. Listed below are the sub-objectives.
- We will address microbial safety in the processing of squash noodles, including both butternut squash and zucchini. From 2019 to January 2021, 5 recalls have been issued on fresh-cut squashes and squash noodles in the U.S., all due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. FDA-approved sanitizers, such as chlorine-based sanitizer and peroxyacetic acid (PAA), are the readily available and economically feasible options to wash squashes in squash noodles processing. Therefore, we will optimize the type of wash-water sanitizer, washing time, washing method, and other parameters in squash noodles processing to improve microbial safety.
- We will optimize the performance of peel-reseal lidding films. What limited the application of peel-reseal films in fresh produce packaging is the whitening of pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) and the loss of adhesion, due to PSA’s contact with the respiratory condensates from fresh produce. Therefore, we will screen suitable PSAs, develop methods to prevent PSA whitening, and optimize the adhesion strength to develop peel-reseal films for squash noodles packaging.
- We will design Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) with microperforated peel-reseal films to retain the quality of squash noodles and extend the shelf-life. Compared to squashes cut into cubes or chips, squash noodles have more surface area exposed to air and more plant tissues damaged during processing, resulting in faster respiration rates, senescence, and shorter shelf-life. Therefore, we will design films with oxygen transmission rate (OTR) specific to butternut squash and zucchini noodles to maintain the optimum gas levels in the package, and we will evaluate the effect of MAP on quality retention of squash noodles.