Making fruit and veges last longer

by Jennifer Bowden / 24 March, 2012
We should eat our five-plus a day, says nutritionist Jennifer Bowden, and keeping produce fresh for longer would help.




Question: I read with interest the January 21 column about food wastage. A wonderful Fruit & Veggie Saver I found in a UK shop works in the produce drawer of a fridge for up to three months by absorbing gas emitted by the fruit and vegetables. I find broccoli now lasts at least three times as long. This product also can be used in fruit bowls. Do you know if any enterprising importer is making something like this available in New Zealand?

Answer: Yesterday I saw a juicy looking nectarine in our fruit bowl just waiting to be devoured; so feeling a bit hungry today, I moseyed over to the bowl, only to discover my juicy nectarine was now covered in mould.

It would be great if produce lasted longer in the warmer months – not least because our ability to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day depends on  having access to produce that isn’t rotten.

I am unsure how many others find their fruit turning mouldy, dashing any hopes of a healthy snack, but New Zealanders are sadly lacking in the fruit and vegetable department: according to the 2008-09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, just 55% of men and 66% of women eat two or more servings of fruit a day, and only 60% of men and 72% of women consume three or more servings of vegetables a day.

The deaths of an estimated 1500 New Zealanders in 1997 were ultimately the result of not eating enough fruit and vegetables, according to a 2005 study published in Public Health Nutrition. These deaths – from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancers – could have been prevented. Even a very modest 40g daily increase in fruit and vegetable intake – for example, less than half a tomato or one small apricot – could have prevented 300 deaths in 2011, according to the researchers.

But getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables is about as easy as trying to find an avocado on the supermarket shelf that’s ripe enough to eat today. That the nectarines are mouldy is but one of the many excuses for not eating
more fruit and vegetables.

A 2004 study that investigated barriers to eating more fruit and vegetables, published in Health Education Research, found the perceived high cost and a lack of access to fruit and vegetables were “the most intractable beliefs”.

However, if the shelf life of our fruit and vegetables was extended, we could reduce the financial losses resulting from wilting and mouldy produce. The product you used was an ethylene gas absorber. Ethylene is a natural odourless gas produced by fruit and vegetables that accelerates the ripening process.

Although refrigerating produce helps it to last longer, it doesn’t halt the ripening and decay caused by ethylene gas. However, reducing the levels of ethylene considerably improves the quality and shelf life of fruit and vegetables. Papamoa’s Everfresh Technologies makes ethylene-control systems for customers in the horticultural industry. These systems use potassium permanganate to oxidise ethylene, so it no longer encourages ripening.

Everfresh’s ethylene-control systems have been used in apple and kiwifruit coolstores, in shipping containers transporting kiwifruit and tomatoes, and as sachets in punnets and produce trays. Everfresh recently released a product called beFresh for consumers. These small sachets of potassium permanganate can be placed in the fruit and vegetable compartments in the refrigerator to neutralise ethylene. This helps leafy greens to last longer before they wilt and yellow, and slows the decay of fruit, doubling the shelf life, says Everfresh.

Sachets last a month and cost $2.99. They’re stocked by a number of independent stores, as well as Pak’n Save and New World supermarkets as far south as Nelson; there are plans to introduce them into Christ church and other South Island stores, and into Countdown supermarkets, this month.

So the good news is that the type of product you mention is available in this country, not because of an enterprising importer but thanks to an enterprising Kiwi manufacturer. Reducing the levels of ethylene considerably improves the quality and shelf life of fruit and vegetables.

Email: nutrition@listener.co.nz, or write to “Nutrition”, c/o Listener, PO Box 90783, Victoria St West, Auckland 1142.
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