Problem, novel approach, and justification
Strawberry harvest in the Northeast is limited to an average of three weeks. One way to extend the season and increase profits is to contain postharvest losses. Currently, there is no postharvest treatment to maintain freshness and control disease for strawberry. Postharvest losses of strawberries and other specialty crops is estimated to be as high as 25% due to disease, dehydration and over ripeness, resulting in economic losses to farmers and consumer dissatisfaction. To solve this problem, we use sachets containing anti-microbial essential oils encapsulated into cyclodextrin to control disease. These sachets are combined with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) to prevent water loss of fruit. This project will bring sustainable advanced packaging technology to the strawberry grower, demonstrating increased fruit freshness and storage life by evaluating disease, fresh weight and fruit firmness for postharvest treatment with anti-microbial sachets and MAP compared to conventional storage, and through surveys of farmers and taste tests by farmers and consumers.
Hypothesis and research plan
Hypothesis: Incorporation of our postharvest technology will improve freshness and quality and extend product shelf life.
The research will be conducted at six farms. There will be four treatments (with/without essential oil and with/without MAP) designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the two-component system to increase freshness and control disease. The essential oil is encapsulated with cyclodextrin and placed in Tyvek sachets adhered to the bottom of a 1-lb. plastic clamshell package. As the fruit transpire, the water vapor changes the conformation of the cyclodextrin, releasing the essential oil into the packaging. At the same time clamshell packages are wrapped in MAP to lower and maintain the oxygen content at 5%, increase the carbon dioxide content to 1%, and allow enough water vapor to pass through the package to prevent condensation and fungal growth. The packages are stored at 0-4 C for 7 days. Fruit quality parameters: weight loss, firmness, total soluble solids and fungal decay are evaluated. In year 2 we will add a taste test and nutritional analysis (total ascorbic acid and phenolics).
The results will be presented to growers by the extension agents through extension bulletins, meetings to obtain grower comments, and survey instruments each year of growers and consumers on their assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of this technology.
To demonstrate that our two-component packaging technology will extend the fresh strawberry market season in the Northeast by reducing postharvest losses to disease and dehydration.
Project objectives from proposal:
To demonstrate that our two-component packaging technology will extend the fresh strawberry market season in the Northeast, and will improve inventory management allowing for berries to be picked for later use or in advance of bad weather. Harvesting of all fresh berries would allow for less wasted production left in the field resulting in more efficient land use and production.