UGA researchers look for ways to extend the shelf life of blueberries

The COVID-19 crisis has put supply chain issues at the forefront of concerns about food production and packaging. Researchers at the University of Georgia investigated a possible solution to extend the shelf life of blueberries by exposing them to blue light during storage.

Led by horticultural PhD candidate Yi-Wen Wang, the study, recently published in the journal Horticulturae, suggested that blue light has no effect on fruit quality or disease development in ripe blueberries during storage. post-harvest cold.

The multidisciplinary study was overseen by horticultural faculty member Savithri Nambeesan in collaboration with professors Marc van Iersel and Harald Scherm at UGA's Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and former CAES research assistant Helaina Ludwig.

“Blueberries are a very important crop in Georgia,” Wang said. “If we can extend the shelf life of blueberries, then we can help farmers and also help consumers get fresher, better-tasting blueberries.”

After harvest, the antioxidant-rich berry declines in quality by wilting, cracking, and developing disease. Blue light has been specifically shown to increase anthocyanins, which are antioxidants, in strawberries and blueberries. The research specifically looked at the attributes of fruit tenderness, visual appeal, and anthocyanin content.

Van Iersel, an LED lighting research expert in the Department of Horticulture, collaborated on aspects of LED lighting setup and experimental planning. The study examined two varieties of blueberries, some hand-harvested and some machine-harvested, under blue light compared to control groups under white light and continuous darkness. The researchers measured the fruit quality of the blueberries using texture, weight, color, and other quality attributes.

"That's what consumers care about, visual appeal first...consumers prefer firmer blueberries," Wang said.

The researchers simultaneously tracked both the natural disease development of the berries and a select group inoculated with spore suspension of common berry pathogens. Scherm's laboratory in the CAES Department of Phytopathology collaborated on aspects of the study related to the development of postharvest diseases in blueberry fruits under the different light treatment regimens.

The UGA researchers are the first to test the effect of blue light on the quality of blueberry fruit. Previous studies have shown success in the use of blue light to inhibit the growth of pathogens in citrus. Although the study did not find the application of blue light as an effective method to improve quality or combat pathogens in blueberries, the results contributed to further blueberry research for Georgia growers and consumers.

“It is important to publish data that does not always yield positive results, since it is data in itself. If another scientist has a similar idea and is looking for literature, they have information about what didn't work, ”said Nambeesan, the project's principal investigator and assistant research scientist in the Department of Horticulture. "In the long term, it will save resources and time and allow modifying methods in this area, thus taking a step forward"

Nambeesan said his lab will continue to work on additional issues facing Georgia's blueberry industry, such as the rapid decline in fruit quality after harvest.

“There are still other areas of research that we can focus on in the future, such as looking at pre-harvest light quality manipulation in the field or increasing blue light intensity during post-harvest storage,” Nambeesan said. “We are also interested in developing strategies that help with the fruit harvest, such as the development of aids for ripening and post-harvest storage.”

Developing strategies, including changing lighting forms, to increase yield, maintain fruit firmness, and decrease disease would contribute to the reliability of the fresh blueberry supply chain, especially prevalent after product supply problems. frescoes related to COVID-19. The research was supported by a grant from the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium.

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