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Michael Panuccio, Freshxpress:

"This isn’t just another cooling machine, it’s a game-changer"

Cooling down produce in less than one hour and extending the shelf life by 68% is the result achieved with the Freshxpress Rapid Cooling Tunnel. It is a technology system invented by Michael Panuccio who initially came up with this idea to cool down grapes for his own family farm in Mildura, Australia. Over the years, Michael has tested it on all kinds of crops, including flowers, and all of them have showed an increased 68% shelf life. This patented technology is recognized in Australia through government grants and the media, and the Panuccio family is now offering the same technology to other growers and companies to assist them in streamlining their operations.

Clockwise: 2 unit render, 4 unit render, and 6 unit render (For more information regarding Freshxpress, The Rapid Cool System, its cross industry suitability and more click here).

Importance of rapid cooling
It is very important to maintain the cold chain from the time of the harvest to the time of the sale. Rapid cooling enhances and impacts the cold chain hugely, Panuccio explains. "Every hour saved, equals to one extra day of shelf life, and we can do this in a matter of minutes. If you extend the shelf life of the crop, you will be able to send them to destinations that otherwise may have been hard to reach in the past. It is critical to promptly cool produce to slow down carbohydrate and vitamin loss from respiration, reduce water loss from transpiration, and decrease decay. This rapid cooling system enables producers to offer the freshest fruit, vegetables, and flowers possible."

How it all started
Michael Panuccio is a third-generation grower of fruit and vegetables, and his family has been exporting all over the world for 30 years. They have bought new innovative developments to the cold chain management system over the past 40–50 years, creating significant improvements in cooling packaging technologies. "Being on an island, we had to learn to be good at delivering the product at the best condition. If we sent it by container for 2–3 weeks, it is as fresh as the day it was picked."

So, they originally came up with the technology for themselves, as he wanted to cool down their grapes in one hour after harvest. "I had been sitting with the idea for a long time, and when I finally met the right person, a post-harvest specialist who also designed the fumigation chamber. He connected me with the right people, and about 4–8 months later we commissioned the building of the unit, and it worked out very well."

The rapid cool system they had developed allows us to harvest, pack, rapidly cool and send out the produce on a timely basis. "For example, a ten kilogram carton of grapes takes 18–24 hours to go from an ambient temperature of 35°C to 1 or 2°C when using conventional cooling methods. Our rapid cool system can do this in one hour. There are many benefits, that include not only a prolonged shelf life, but also a better-quality profile."

In order to gain independent results, they gathered with a research group, globally known as CSRIO, and they quickly knew they did something really well. "Some other person suggested us to apply to the NID (New Industry Development) program. We won the best idea in Australia with our product. After that, we were mentioned in a magazine, and since then, we started getting lots of calls and interest. At the time, we weren't ready to commercialize it."

Testing the rapid cooling system on all kind of crops
"The new cooling system demonstrates remarkable performance, validated through extensive testing through Freshxpress trials. During these trials, comparisons were made between traditional and innovative rapid cooling methods, resulting in a significant shelf-life extension of 68%. Typically, the conventional process required 12 to 23 hours to cool flowers, whereas, with the rapid cooling system, the temperature of rose stems was reduced from 21°C to 1.5°C in less than 15 minutes without causing any damage to the flowers.

This rapid cooling process effectively halts the growth of spores on the flowers without chemicals or nitrogen, providing a dry and unique solution. It doesn't matter what type of flower it is, the quickest way to keep it alive is getting the heat out of it. Even corn, which is the hardest product to cool down, because from the time it's harvested it generates its own heat and deteriorates very fast. The Freshxpress system was able to lower down the temperature from 40 degrees to 1,5°C in 1 hour and 15 minutes."

Ready for commercialization
The Panuccio family has been using the system in the last 10+ years, but they only started commercializing it right before the pandemic. "It took us a long time because if the product works, you have to be able to deliver it. You have to equal the skill to the concept. To help support commercial adoption, we work with Greenleaf Enterprises, a business analytic, insight and innovation company, to validate the value proposition for businesses."

"We are not just engineers, we built the machine with a purpose and are now sharing the technology with the world and the different industries. For example, we are also in touch with someone that has four large flower companies in Africa. Together with her, we discuss what is needed and desired in this industry," Panuccio adds.

The machines can be shipped anywhere in the world because they are made in modules, he explains. "A small grower with a hundred kilos of flowers per hour can use it, but you can also have one for a thousand kilos per hour. It makes no difference because it's very easy to scale up or scale down, being modules."

They cannot advise only on the cooling phase, but also on the post-harvesting and packaging. "We also have experience in the packaging of the product. We did a first vacuum packaging of grapes with the Swiss machine VC999. We developed a one-way breathable film, and the results are amazing. This method can be applied to other crops, including flowers."

Future plans
They are ready to ship their machines all over the world. "We already know that as the market develops, we will develop with it. We have partners targeted in markets like the USA, Germany, and Africa."

For more information:
Michael Panuccio
Email:[email protected]