15AGRITECHCAT3 SafePod: New technology for intelligent control of fresh produce storage

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Natural Resources Institute, FES

Abstract

Longer-term storage extends the marketing period for UK grown apples and pears, but is an increasing challenge as restrictions on chemical use become more stringent. One route to achieve this is low O2 storage, but this is risky due to the possibility of low O2 damage. By providing the means to detect the onset of stress in stored apples, SafePod enables storage closer to the tolerance limits of atmospheric composition, thus improving fruit quality and minimising losses due to
disorders.
SafePod detects stress through changes in respiratory characteristics that indicate a switch to damaging anaerobic respiration. SafePod is a chamber placed within a fruit store which holds a sample of fruit representative of the whole store consignment. The SafePod atmosphere can be isolated from that of the whole store, and so that the respiratory characteristics of fruit can be measured using new-generation gas sensors.
The key research component within this project is to determine the relationship between the changes in the respiratory characteristics of the fruit and the optimum storage environment. This is expected to differ by fruit variety according to tissue characteristics such as density and mineral composition, and also to be highly dependent on fruit maturity. The researchers will work closely with the rest of the consortium to optimise the use of the prototype SafePod in growers' stores and to provide Best Practice Guides on how to translate the SafePod data to optimise storage strategies.

Technical Summary

Over 170 k tonnes of apples and pears are stored annually in the UK. In the absence of post-harvest chemicals, losses due to poor quality and disease are estimated at 3-15%. The project will deliver a new engineering solution to reduce losses. By monitoring metabolic status of fruit, SafePod will allow growers to use lower storage O2 concentrations than currently achievable, extending storage-life of fruit without risking damage. The project will optimise the use of the prototype SafePod in growers' stores and under lab conditions to define optimum storage for different apple and pear varieties and operating conditions for SafePod. The project brings together post-harvest researchers, storage engineers, growers and the retail sector to deliver better quality fruit to the consumer and reduce waste. The global market for SafePod is huge, with potential markets in UK and worldwide includingUSA/Canada, Australia, Europe and India.

Planned Impact

Longer-term storage extends the marketing period for UK grown apples, but is an increasing challenge as restrictions on chemical use become more stringent. One route to achieve this is low O2 storage, but this is risky due to the possibility of low O2 damage. By providing the means to detect the onset of stress in stored apples, SafePod enables storage closer to the tolerance limits of atmospheric composition, thus improving fruit quality and minimising losses due to disorders. The
ouputs of this project will therefore have practical implications for the fresh produce industry.

SafePod introduction is timely as the long-term storage potential of apples (4-12 months) has been compromised by loss of post-harvest chemicals resulting in 3-15% (£3-15 million) losses of the stored UK crop. The SafePod system can deliver an estimated of £3-6 million cost saving through reduction in waste in the UK alone. With a 40 % rise in in two of UK's major apple vars. Gala and Braeburn, there is a large economic gain in extended storage/ marketing period.

SafePod will be equally effective in extending storage life of a wide range of apple and pear varieties, and in monitoring storage health of other commodities (potato, onion, stone fruit, avocado, cabbage and beans). Costing ~£5K for a unit and a lifespan of 15 years is cost competitive.

Consumers and retailers will both benefit from increased sales of UK fruit with improved quality and greater seasonal availability.

The SafePod will reduce economic waste of downgraded fruit and lower the incidence of post-harvest diseases and physiological disorders that reduce growers profitability. All of this will be achieved with a reduced dependence on chemical use. The reduction in losses constitutes an energy saving.
ICA will benefit from sales of SafePods within the UK and overseas. Short-term benefits of £7M are estimated. In addition a modified stand-alone lab-based 'LabPod' will be developed, suitable for CA research facilities. SafePod's advantage is easy integration into existing ICA storage equipment used extensively in the UK (90%) making adoption cost effective.

The research will provide insights that will have applications beyond top fruit storage. For example it will provide insight into the impact of tissue structure on gas exchange and how this in turn impacts on metabolic response to stresses of extreme controlled atmosphere conditions. This could have applications beyond fruit to other bulky commodities such as potato.

Publications

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Description This project focused on a technology to improve long-term storage of apples. Apples may be stored for several months through a combination of low temperature and a reduction in oxygen concentration, both of which slow down the metabolism and therefore slow down the ripening of the fruit. This project involved the development of the SafePod; a chamber that can be placed within a commercial apple controlled atmosphere store in order to monitor the metabolic status of the fruit. Specifically, the SafePod is able to analyse the respiratory characteristics of the apples, in terms of the respiratory quotient, carbon dioxide evolved/oxygen consumed. When the oxygen in the atmosphere is too low, this ratio increases indicatin that the fruit is starting to ferment. The SafePod therefore provides a mechanism for selecting the optimum oxygen concentration; low enough to slow metabolism, but not so low that the fruit starts to ferment (respire anaerobically).
In addition to this, during the course of the project we discovered that by monitoring the rate of respiration we could predict fruit disorders, ensuring that the fruit was taken out and used before it deteriorated.
Exploitation Route We believe there are significant opportunities to use the concept of metabolic monitoring in the storage of other crops. We are currently carrying out a proof of concept trial on potato storage.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

URL http://www.storagecontrol.com
 
Description This project involved the development of the SafePod; a chamber that can be placed within a commercial apple controlled atmosphere store in order to monitor the metabolic status of the fruit. By detecting when the fruit is stressed, this enables the storage environment to be optimised. Furthermore, by monitoring changes in respiration rate through the storage season, it is possible to predict when the fruit has reached the end of its storage life and should be removed for marketing. This technology is now being used by apple growers in the UK and in North America. The concept of monitoring metabolic status in storage using SafePod is now being tested for other commodities, including potato.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Grower meeting to explain use of SafePod for apple storage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Training of apple storers to improve storage of fruit
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation to Growers training course, Washington State USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to present at an annual event organised for the Washington State apple growers, specifically to present a talk about the findings of this project, and thereby to inform the US apple industry on the potential of this technology
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Television interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I was interviewed on a Channel 5 programme about food supplies from supermarkets. The main discussion centred around the issue that the public may be surprised to find that the apples they purchase from supermarkets have been picked several months ago. Despite the aim of the programme to produce "shocking stories", the coverage was very sympathetic to UK apple storers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019