This organic film extends the shelf life of fruit and vegetables
It's like nature – but better
It's difficult to believe around 40% of food produced goes to waste – particularly when you consider the sheer number of people having to go without on a daily basis. But it's true.
It turns out that as well as running out of land and resources to grow the food we need, one of the biggest issues we are facing is spoilage. We have all opened the fridge to find a piece of fruit or a vegetable that has spoiled – and there is a good chance you just rolled your eyes and put it in the bin. Consider for a second how you might react if you had to rely on that item.
American company Apeel, was founded in 2012 with the purpose of prolonging the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. The company believes it has finally cracked it, and all it had to do was shore up what nature already made.
All plants, including their fruit and vegetables, have an outer layer called cutin, which is a wax-like layer of fatty acids that acts to keep moisture in and oxygen out. This is important, as much like you and I, if we get dehydrated, we will shrivel up and do quite poorly. Keeping oxygen out is important as oxygen speeds up the reactions taking place inside the plant. If the plant has been picked, all the resources it is ever going to have are within it, so the sooner it uses them up, the sooner it dies. Therefore, keeping reactions to a minimum is key – and that means keeping oxygen out.
After trialling many different solutions, Apeel has found that the solution nature gave them – the cutin – is the best. So, it has recreated a more robust version of that.
The substance it developed comprises lipids, much like cutin. As with any lipids (oil, for example), you can suspend it in water for a period of time – but eventually it comes together to eliminate water. We all know water and oil don't mix. Using this principle, Apeel suspends the lipid in water so it can be sprayed onto fruit or vegetables. As the water in the suspension evaporates, the lipid molecules find each other and their individual properties become important.
Lipid molecules have a water-loving part and a water-hating part. Since fruit and vegetables are full of water, as the lipids dry, they line up alongside each other with their water-loving part in contact with the fruit, and the water-hating part around the outside. This creates a barrier that water cannot escape through, keeping it inside the fruit.
It also creates a barrier to oxygen getting into the fruit – and we know that less oxygen means fewer reactions and a slower usage of resources, so the fruit stays 'alive' for longer.
These factors slow the rate of deterioration of the fruit, prolonging its shelf life. Of course, this is all very much dependent on the barrier remaining intact, so if the fruit is pierced or damaged, the barrier doesn't work.
Apeel's research has shown that if the barrier remains unbreached, fruit spoils 2-3 times more slowly than if no barrier is applied. So, you the possibility of finding spoiled food in the fridge is reduced.
The coating is not only based on a plant derived theory, it is made entirely from plant derived lipids. This means it is edible and it is vegan, so shouldn't interfere with any dietary preferences. It's colourless and flavourless so you won't even notice it's there.