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New in South African citrus season 2014:

Chemical-free citrus post-harvest becoming new standard

For as long as can be remembered, chemical compounds have been used to treat oranges after harvesting. Increased awareness of apparent harmful side-effects mean that their popularity is waning, to such an extent that a growing number of countries have banned their use.

Within this context, Dutch fresh produce company Cool Fresh International developed a project to find an effective post-harvest treatment against fungi, bacteria and viruses, using environmentally-friendly and biodegradable products which are completely safe for humans – both at production level as well as at consumer level.



Challenge
To this end the company – an established fresh fruit specialist with clients in over 50 countries – embarked on a research project in partnership a number of partners: the GOGO group, its primary South African citrus supplier; Han Maathuis of BioClean, a company devoted to hygiene optimisation in critical business processes; and Rene Besteman of Besteman Techno Support, a company which specialises in low volume mist installations and which has designed a highly effective nozzle to facilitate the application process.

Partners
The challenge was to enable growers to establish full control over mildews and pathogenic germs in a biological and safe to use manner, allowing them to offer a great quality product, free of chemicals and with the same shelf life as fresh fruit treated with harmful post-harvest chemicals.

Test

Eben Kruger, of GOGO, explains: “In 2011, we conducted the first small-scale tests in our farms in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo area. Implementing the process was easy, as by using the patented nebulisers we were able to adjust the dosages of the biodegradable treatment product exactly and efficiently”.

According to Niels Stolk of Cool Fresh International these first tests were promising in the sense that oranges arrived in Europe in the same condition as those treated with Thiabendazole, Orthophenyl phenol or Imazalil. The test pallets were stored for a long period of time with good results, which prompted Stolk’s company to devote even more resources to the study.

“After a lot more fine-tuning, monitoring, and optimising we scaled up the volume, and over a period of two months we shipped multiple lots of specially treated oranges. Each shipment consisted of two lots of fruit from the same orchard: one was treated with traditional chemicals and the other with our biodegradable, non-chemical product. We were again pleasantly surprised with the results, both in terms of shelf life as well as external and internal quality. Most importantly, our product left no trace on the oranges,” Stolk says.

Market
In 2013, the tests were brought to a commercial level with the shipment of a limited number of containers to a client who had agreed to participate in the test. This time, the product passed through the entire supply chain, from South African packing house to Cool Fresh’s warehouse and subsequently to its final destination. The results, in this case, were also extremely satisfactory.

After three seasons of testing, GOGO, Cool Fresh, BioClean and Besteman are ready to up the stakes. Eben Kruger of Eben Kruger Marketing affirms that in the coming 2014 season, he will be extending the process to a number of his group’s farms, and will pack a solid volume of late varieties using the new process.

Future
Han Maathuis, of BioClean, says that a harvested orange is a living organism. It breathes, and is sensitive to environmental factors. This requires optimum packing conditions, such as a correct temperature and humidity. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi need to be combated, but not with treatments which are worse than the problem. He states: “Our process flawlessly keeps the balance between fruit hygiene and consumer safety.”

For the 2014 season, arrivals will be monitored by Dutch certified food laboratory Groen Agro Control, who will perform analyses on the shipments. Prior to departure, tests will also be performed by a South African laboratory. Niels Stolk says that the partners in the project believe that they are setting a new standard in ensuring clean, safe and healthy citrus to retailers. Stolk: “No longer do retailers and consumers have to accept the use of potentially damaging fungicides and disinfection products to ensure a good shelf life for their products.”


For more information:
Niels Stolk
Cool Fresh International
niels@coolfresh.nl
Mobile: + 31 655 114 114

Cool Fresh International has been a fresh fruit specialist since 2007. The company’s expertise lies in all fields of fresh produce agriculture. It owns farms in Southern Africa, is involved in packing and distribution and has been supplying retail and wholesale clients in more than 50 countries with fresh produce.

GOGO Citrus operates five farms in South Africa, and the brand has made a name for itself in some key global markets. GOGO now exports roughly 1.5 million cartons (940 containers) per year, and by 2015 it will be more than 3 million cartons (1,900 containers).

Bio-Clean has been active in the food sector since 2007, and is specialised in hygiene optimisation in critical business processes. Coming from a background in the food industry, the company understands its customers and the challenges they are facing.

Besteman Techno Support started in 1988 and has since established itself as the pre-eminent experts in RLVM nebulising techniques. Entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector appreciate Besteman’s thorough advice and supply of reliable, maintenance-friendly, and energy efficient equipment.


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