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"La Linea Verde"
Italy: R&D crucial to manage issues in fresh-cut sector
On 6 March 2012, FreshPlaza went to visit "La Linea Verde",Manerbio, Brescia, Italy, an Italian leader for fresh-cut sector. We spoke to Dr. Demian Becchetti, company manager, and Dr. Marco Petrogalli, responsible for research and development of the company.
Which could be the critical issues for a La Linea Verde Company's profitable work-connection between university research and enterprise?
During the last years, the cooperation between university and enterprise has allow us to overcome several critical issues that limited the shelf-life of the product and the stock range. Tissue browning of baby leaf and lettuce due to the cutting operations can be considered solved, this is an example of how the processing automation has led to improve product quality.
‘La Linea Verde’ has worked to enhance the effectiveness of each processing phase. The number of washings, the water amount to obtain a clean and safe product (the company reduces significantly the microbial load on vegetables by six washings), drying of vegetable after washing (the company uses both spinner and air forced tunnel according to the species and cultivar to be processed), packaging with modified atmosphere by mixing different concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide according to the vegetable typology, all these aspects are automated and controlled by computer.
All these aspects have been studied considering each vegetable in terms of structural characteristics and physiological response to the fresh-cut processing. The company has leased processing lines to the different salad typologies (baby leaf or lettuce). For example, the processing lines of baby leaf lettuce and head lettuce are very similar but they differ for drying technique, air forced tunnel is used for the former while spinner is used for the latter. Automation typologies depend on power supply and managing costs, and on vegetables that must be processed in terms of their physiology during processing and market demand. During the last years, the company has invested in processing computerization, it is working on developing and improving software to better control the processing and obtain constant quality and safety.
The critical issues that should be studied are:
- Genetics, sorting and cleaning operations, and packaging. Genetics should aim at increasing the processing yield of head lettuce, whose yield is currently very low and dependent on processing typology. For head lettuce, most of the head is removed by cleaning, while for the baby leaf, the yield is greater because the produce comes from the field is ready to be processed.
- Sorting and cleaning automation is fundamental for head lettuce that must be properly cleaned before to be put on processing line.
- Packaging should aim at developing new polymers, currently only polypropylene films are used and they differ for thickness and hole size according to the vegetable. Packaging is always a critical issue because its efficacy on preserving the product depends on physiology processed species, temperature conditions, and atmosphere inside the package.
Which advances have been made by the company to improve safety product?
Sorting and cleaning phase (Photo: La Linea Verde).
In this moment, the company is working to improve the operations of sorting and cleaning, which depend on foreign bodies present on vegetable coming from the field. Currently, these operations are partly automated because the first produce selection is manually made by an operator, then along the processing line there are electronic devices, such as optical systems and metal detectors, that identify the foreign body and stop the processing until the problem is overcome.
The company is hardly working to prevent and reduce the risk associated with foreign bodies presence on vegetable before processing and during processing, for this reason it is investing in staff training involving all operators from field to the transport of fresh-cut product to market.
On field, the agronomists help the growers to follow both the good agricultural practices and the good hygiene practices, and to manage the harvesting operations to reduce contamination risk of raw material. In the processing factory, the operators are constantly informed of critical issues and risks that could occur during processing. For example, the different foreign bodies coming from field change according to the culture system and season.
Which are operational, technological, and economical reasons that have limited the development of fresh-cut fruit chain compared to the fresh-cut leafy vegetables?
In Italy, fresh-cut fruit chain is not taken off as in other European Countries, fresh-cut leafy vegetables has reached a value of 775 millions € on national retail market, while fresh-cut fruit has hardly reached a value of 15 millions €.
The critical issues of fresh-cut chain are essentially two. The first critical issue concerns the processing, the fruits are more delicate than leafy vegetables, fruits are more susceptible to the mechanical injuries due to the processing operations, such as washing and cutting. Furthermore, the high sugar content and the high sensitivity to the sudden change of temperature limit the fresh-cut fruit shelf-life that is currently of five days. The second critical issue concerns the chain, there are not many skilled growers that can satisfy the technological requests of fresh-cut fruit chain. Maturity stage at harvest, fruit firmness and size are the most important parameters to obtain an optimal fruit for fresh-cut chain.
We’d like to thank ‘La Linea Verde’ for the interesting information, and we will return to discuss and deal with other current issues with the company that is leader on national fresh-cut market.
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