They successfully develop eco-packaging for export of blueberries

An initiative funded by INNOVA CORFO, led by Fundación Chile and co-executed by the Regional Center for Food and Health Studies (CREAS) and the Technical University Federico Santa María (UTFSM), concluded with the creation of an active container for export of blueberries.

It is an eco-designed container that has direct coating of the fruit based on natural extracts, a compound incorporated in the polymer matrix of the container and an additive to be introduced into it, which promises to favor the profitability of the export business, noted CREAS in a statement.

The initiative -which lasted two years of execution- sought to develop an innovative and efficient container that would allow the quality, health and freshness of the fruit to be conserved until reaching the consumer's table, that is, more than 45 days after having been harvested

And it is that the exports of this fruit mainly aim at the markets of the USA, Asia and Europe, being the softening (68% of the presence of defects), the dehydration (55%) and the rot (12%) some of the main problems of the fruit.

As a result of the above, Dr. Mónika Valdenegro, researcher CREAS, said that they worked with a broad matrix of natural extracts to identify plant material that could have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.

"One of the most important problems during the refrigerated conservation of fruit and vegetable products in general, and in blueberries in particular, is Botrytis cinerea; and the resistance that this fungus has to the (certified) products that exist on the market today for its control"He commented.

To do the above, the researcher carried out a series of tests to find the natural extract that could control the fungus and that - at the same time - did not deteriorate the bloom of the cranberry [the waxy covering] that is so characteristic.

According to the document, in the first stages of the research they focused on the use of characterized extracts of propolis, pomegranate (husk) and maqui (fruits and leaves), finally opting for propolis given its effectiveness in "in vitro" tests of anti-fungal control.

"Various coatings were prepared and the fruits were given a bath, then a drying process was carried out (on a laboratory scale). The refrigerated preservation of different formulations was followed with this incorporated extract and with other elements to give better coverage on the fruit. At first, we saw that this component [propolis] was very good at controlling the fungus but removing the bloom; which was not a viable commercial alternative", Valdenegro pointed out.

In a second stage, the researchers pointed to other extracts that in addition to having anti-microbial and anti-fungal activity, had the characteristic of being volatile and thus spread within the PET clamshell container in which blueberries are currently marketed.

In this process, anise oil, extracts of thyme and fennel were worked on, improving the formulation and also working - in parallel - on the container.

In that sense, Felipe Castro, the technical engineer who led the project from Fundación Chile, explained that edible films were developed as a means of transporting natural active substances with anti-fungal properties and the extract was applied in PET sheets, fixing the compounds in the polymeric matrix to later evaluate its effects on the fruit.

"A technology was developed based on the emulsion and micro-encapsulation of volatile compounds with anti-fungal properties, forming microspheres that were incorporated in a sachet to be introduced in the clamshells in which the blueberries are arranged"He said.

Specifically, the extract of anise oil was introduced into the clamshell through a sachet-capsule and the extract of thyme oil was selected for the preparation of dispersions of natural extracts with fungicidal action and application tests. Both processes were in charge of experts from the Plastic Technology Institute (AIMPLAS) of Spain.

Another fundamental aspect responsible for the success of the packaging was the study of the cooling dynamics of the pallets, which was in charge of the specialist in cooling systems, Dr. Luis Luschinger, of the University of Chile.

Thus, a comparative study of the cooling process was proposed, making use of traditional packaging, modified packaging (incorporating the extracts) and packaging with modified design.

Finally, the Regional Director of CORFO (Maule), Carlos Leppe, referring to the results of the project, highlighted that it contributes to improving the profitability of the exporting process and the input of this active container can generate greater opportunities for the differentiation of exporters, contributing to competitiveness.

"I think that the second stage is to work on the XFOUM line of CORFO to move into the packaging sector of research and development. In this way, we ensure the overcrowding and, consequently, a positioning in the international market"He concluded.


Source: Fruit Portal

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