Ethylene filters to slow ripening during transport

Loup Logistics: No bad apples

The saying goes: “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”. But Sarah Gross thinks she can prevent that from happening, with the right kind of filter.
"I always wondered why we didn't handle more produce," said Gross, senior consultant at Loup Logistics, a Union Pacific subsidiary. "It's because people think rail takes too long and fruits ripen too quickly."

She did some research and discovered the ripening process is triggered by ethylene gas. Ethylene is a plant hormone that degrades plant cells, causing fruits to ripen.

However, ethylene filters have been around since 2004, created by NASA as a means to grow fruits in space. The filters have been successfully used for several years by produce growers, flower companies and the Navy.

Curious about implementing the filters in refrigerated rail cars, Gross submitted the concept as part of Union Pacific’s Marketing and Sales Department’s internal Shark Tank idea contest.

"We tested on apples because these are high ethylene producers and Cold Connect was already moving them," Gross said. Cold Connect is a new Union Pacific service for food and beverage shippers who require refrigerated storage and transportation. Gross discovered that the Cold Connect facility in Wallula, Washington, was using ethylene absorption tubes to test the effectiveness of ethylene filters inside their refrigerated railcars.

The tubes collected almost 11 liters of the gas, about 17 percent of the total ethylene produced in each car. Gross conducted more tests, on organic Gala apples. The apples were starch and pressure tested before being shipped in three different conditions: in a truck without an ethylene filter, in a rail car without an ethylene filter and in a rail car with an ethylene filter. At the end of their journey, a New York lab confirmed Gross' suspicions: The apples in the ethylene-controlled rail car were less ripe upon arrival.

"We can't say that ethylene control reverted the ripening process, but we can say that based on our test results, transporting apples in a rail car with ethylene control would potentially give grocery stores an extra 12 days on the shelf," Gross told up.com.

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