Mexico: Researchers designs edible package coatings for fruit

Researchers at the Cuautitlan School of Higher Studies (FES) from the UNAM are developing active packages, i.e. coatings to extend the life of fruits and vegetables that allow releasing antifungal substances that prevent fungi from degrading and decomposing the fresh fruit.

"This project arises from the country's need as a major producer of fruits and vegetables. Currently, more than 45 percent of the food is lost due to mishandling, improper storage and handling," said Andrea Trejo Maria Marquez, head of the research project.

Mrs Trejo, who is also responsible for the Postharvest Laboratory of Plant Products of the FES Cuautitlan, explained that these containers were made from edible raw materials such as the cactus mucilage, a material obtained by cutting and cooking the cactus.

"That gelatinous substance has high nutritional properties. We can collect it and dry it, then use it as a template to produce these containers to which we add natural antifungal compounds obtained from typical Mexican plants like oregano, damiana, eucalyptus, rosemary and governor," she added.

These Mexican plants, which grow in dry lands, are incorporated into the mucilage along with other additives to achieve the required consistency required so that the fruits and vegetables can be individually coated with this mix in order to preserve and prolong their life.

Visually, the containers are coatings that are applied to the product and stick to it, they are transparent and, when they do have colour, it is similar to the colour of the fruit or vegetable to which it is going to be applied. The coating is very thin as it is an individual package for each fruit or vegetable.

The researcher said that they are currently in the prototyping stage and that following that they would try the product at a pilot plant and, in the future, they would take the containers to producers and marketers.

So far, she said, they have conducted satisfactory trials in strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, custard apple, plum, orange, lime and mangoes (from the Kent, Keitt and Ataulfo varieties), as well as squash, cucumber and tomato.

"We are doing specific tests for each individual fruit because they have different characteristics and the diseases they are affected by depend on their skin. A strawberry with grey mould isn't the same thing as a mango with anthracnose (black spots)," she said.

The researcher said that the fresh fruits' lifespan could be prolonged between five and seven days, or even ten days. She added that the containers could also include other materials that also serve to bind the antifungal compound such as carboxymethylcellulose, sodium alginate and gelatin.

"Producers and consumers would be benefited by this development because they would be able to eat fruits without chemical products. The environment would also benefit from this product as no fungicides would be used in the products' pre-harvest and post-harvest, and, additionally, we wouldn't have to create more plastic," she said.

Source: Cronica

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