More than just a seasonal snack, for many consumers, berries have become one of their five-a- day – an anti-ageing, antioxidant, everyday essential. These delicious and nutritious soft fruits need tender care at all stages of their postharvest life, in order to arrive at their destination, juicy, fresh and ready to be enjoyed.
Together with industry partners, NRI researchers are working on ‘Project Coolberry2’ to develop an innovative ‘cooling rig’ which allows fruit to be cooled immediately in the field once picked, rather than waiting several hours before arrival at the packhouse.
The project was conceived by NRI and JD Cooling Ltd, one of the UK’s leading farm refrigeration companies. Project trials are being carried out at the facilities of project partner, Berry Gardens Ltd, a major supplier of strawberries to the UK supermarkets, with additional engineering support from Hennock International.
Incorporation of an infra-red vision system provides the possibility of monitoring the fruit to ensure cooling is optimised to meet the individual needs of fruit consignments. Scorpion Vision – leading players in vision systems – are designing a camera system that can cope with humidity and changes in temperature in order to feed back crop temperatures during cooling to the refrigeration plant.
NRI scientists are using this equipment to carry out trials to investigate the response of strawberries to temperature changes in order determine the cooling regimes that provide the optimum fruit quality and shelf-life. The protocols developed are central to the potential of the technology. Cooling fruit quickly will help to maintain quality, extend the shelf-life of fruit and reduce waste, while cooling-efficient packaging will reduce energy usage.
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Dr Lori Fisher