Packaging 2.0: they invent hydrogel that delays fruit rot

The scientist from the Universidad Católica del Maule Sara Cuadros managed to produce a film that extends the useful life of fruits, opening an attractive opportunity for the export industry.

A hydrogel created by a research team from the Universidad Católica del Maule (UCM), led by PhD in Food Sciences, Sara Cuadros, could delay fruit rot in up to three weeks. The compound, which inhibits the growth of fungi, would prevent millions of dollars in losses due to rot in the fruit export industry.

“It all depends on the storage temperature, but if the fruit is kept cold, the hydrogel delays the onset of rot by at least three weeks. If there is a break in the cold chain, the protection is maintained for one or two weeks," said the also academic from the Faculty of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences of the UCM, who led the project financed by the Regional Government of O'Higgins, through the Innovation Fund for Regional Competitiveness (FIC-R).

“We prepare this hydrogel based on polymers and natural extracts with antifungal properties and we incorporate it into the inner surface of the bags for packing table grapes. Through the gradual emission of the volatile compounds that are encapsulated in the hydrogel, the protection is given,” he added.

The hydrogel, which the study center seeks to patent as an original idea, corresponds to the result of three years of applied research. "During transport - Cuadros specified -, the fruits are generally preserved with a cold chain at low temperatures, but it is also necessary to put them in bags many times with a modified atmosphere, which have some gas emitters that, although they inhibit the growth fungi, also cause damage to fruits. Alternative solutions must be sought."

sustainable product

Regarding the manufacture of the hydrogel, the scientist indicated that Chile has all the ingredients. "The product is sustainable because we have the raw materials and the industries that transform them and, therefore, it also promotes the socioeconomic development of the country," she pointed out.

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