FreshTech: A new innovative packaging technology will reduce fruit and vegetable waste in food retail and households
The FreshTech innovation – formerly known as FreshPack – created at the University of Helsinki can help maintain the freshness of fruits and vegetables in conditions where the temperature cannot cost-effectively be lowered. FreshTech uses a safe and bio-based pad integrated into the packaging of fresh produce. The technology works well in unsealed packages at room temperature.

About 86% of food waste comes from fresh produce such as fruits, berries and vegetables. Over the past decade, the pursuit of healthy lifestyles and better diets became a popular trend that has raised the global demand for fresh produce.  

However, fresh produce spoils very fast, and around half of the waste is created by retailers and consumers. It is estimated that annual losses of around €200 billion come from fresh produce waste generated by retailers and consumers in the United States and Europe alone.  

Most of the available fresh produce packaging in the market comprises sealed containers. They control the gas composition and temperature of the storage environment to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. 

“In the case of loose products, as well as vegetables stored in open packages, these methods are usually unsuitable. And consumers don’t have many other means apart from their refrigerator for prolonging the shelf life of vegetables,” says Associate Professor Kirsi Mikkonen from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki. 

The harvesting of fresh vegetables, fruits and berries can be delayed by using FreshTech technology. 

FreshTech offers a solution that preserves the taste and nutritional quality of fresh produce more effectively than currently available packaging solutions.  

FreshTech offers solutions that target overripening, microbial spoilage, water loss and browning, all at the same time. Conventional technologies, for example, polymer containers, can generally target just one of these challenges at a time to maintain the freshness of fresh produce.  

The FreshTech commercialisation project launched at the University of Helsinki aims to minimise food waste by prolonging the shelf life of fresh produce such as fruits, berries and vegetables using a safe and bio-based pad integrated into the fresh produce’s packaging.  

The technology, whose patent is pending, is based on an innovation developed at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki. A combination of three different research areas and ideas precipitated the FreshTech innovation.  

“My group was studying different bio-based packages. At that time, Professor Maija Tenkanen was on a research sabbatical. She started to think about new packaging solutions. The third piece of the puzzle was Dr Mari Lehtonen, who had already for some time studied vegetable oils,” says Kirsi Mikkonen.

FreshTech is an ideal solution to support the EU Green Deal, which is targeting a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. FreshTech can also increase food retailers’ profits, decrease their waste footprint and give consumers more time to utilise their products. 

The next step forward: Commercialisation

The science behind the FreshTech technology has already been well established with the help of the HiLIFE Proof of Concept grant and the Business Finland Research to Business project. The development of FreshTech technology will continue towards an industrially scalable and commercially viable solution.

As a step in moving forward, FreshTech is looking for collaborators especially to optimise the production: food producers, packaging line and material experts, warehouses, distributers and brands.

At the moment, FreshTech is focusing on berries and fresh-cut products. FreshTech uses a low cost and easily scalable bio-based pad which is integrated into a container. Aside from maintaining the produce’s freshness, the pad can also function as cushion and moisture absorber. FreshTech technology has a great future potential to be integrated into other types of packaging, such as polymer containers as part of the material itself or paper board packaging as a coating.

FreshTech made its first appearance at Slush in 2019. Now, after two years, FreshTech will be presented again at the 2021 Slush event. The team now has a new member to strengthen their expertise on the technical side. FreshTech is also looking for expertise to advance the commercialisation of FreshTech.

This technology has a clear place in the food distribution chain, and FreshTech already has a committed industry partner to initiate the first trial of this technology with their fresh berries.

Problem

About 86% of food waste comes from fresh produce such as fruits, berries and vegetables.

Solution

The FreshTech commercialisation project aims to minimise food waste by prolonging the shelf life of fresh produce such as fruits, berries and vegetables using a safe and bio-based pad integrated into the fresh produce’s packaging.

Join us

We are looking for new partners and application possibilities at every stage of food distribution chain. Reducing food waste is a global mission, which is why we look forward to contacting both domestic and international operators!

Article

Lehtonen, M., Kekäläinen, S., Nikkilä, I., Kilpeläinen, P., Tenkanen, M., & Mikkonen, K. S. (2020). Active food packaging through controlled in situ production and release of hexanal. Food chemistry: X, 5, 100074.

 

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