High food wastage is a hindrance in achieving sustainable food supply chains and economic growth. Approximately 70% of fruits and vegetables produced in African countries are lost along the supply chain, with an estimated 25 to 80% loss being attributed to spoilage. This idea takes a two-pronged approach to mitigate the problem of food wastage by (i) adding value to citrus by-products by extracting pectin and (ii) formulating a pectin-based edible coating for surface application on fresh produce to extend their shelf-life.
In Mauritius and Southern African countries, given their warm and humid tropical climates, fresh fruits and vegetables have an extremely low level of natural protection against the climate, pests and biochemical and physiological deterioration. Indeed, fresh fruits and vegetables are highly perishable by virtue of their high moisture content typically of 70-95%, their high to very high respiration rate, soft texture, short shelf life and susceptibility to spoilage microorganisms and senescence processes. In addition, in warm humid tropical regions numerous human diseases are more prevalent and therefore the nutritional value of fresh produce is most essential. Fruits and vegetables are the major sources of vitamins A and C, a good source of calcium and iron and they supply part of the requirements for a number of other minor nutrients. Thus in the face of the growing population and the need to transport fresh produce to distant locations and store them longer, new research initiatives need to be taken to enhance the quality of fresh produce, extend the shelf life and reduce post harvest loss.
Our idea is to develop a "Minimum Viable Product (MVP)" which is a dry shelf-stable pectin powder supplemented with food preservatives. The powder is intended for hydration in water to form an aqueous edible coating for subsequent topical application on locally grown fresh fruits & vegetables to prolong their shelf-life and thus address the problem of post-harvest loss explained above. The MVP is plant-derived and is thus natural and biodegradable. Moreover, the fact that pectin is a natural food ingredient, the coating is edible. Edible coating is a type of active packaging system that is more environment-friendly than non-biodegradable plastic food packaging.
Our proposed approach can be summarized by the flow-chart below.
To ensure that the product delivers the intended technical effect, fruits and vegetables treated with our product termed EcoPEC (short for eco-friendly pectin-based edible coating), will be subjected to a panel of tests (microbiological, physicochemical, sensorial etc).
We expect that EcoPEC, being a dry powder, will be sold in a rigid or flexible, opaque and air-tight plastic container enclosed with a user-friendly guide for the customer. The container will shield the content from light, moisture, air and insects. The product will be sold in quantities of 50g, 500g or 5 kg in lightweight plastic opaque containers as shown below:
By using pectin, we will be adding value to fruit by-products by extraction of a biopolymer from fruits for application onto fruits and vegetables to retard quality deterioration. Selected fruit varieties are often imported to Mauritius pre-waxed, depending on the Country of Origin and the fruits in question. The main competitive advantages of pectin as an edible coating is that unlike the wax which acts as a passive barrier, EcoPEC once hydrated forms a functional and ‘active’ water-based coating. The pectin carrier is incorporated with antimicrobials that also delay bacterial and fungal growth on fruits and vegetables. In addition, the EcoPEC coating retards moisture loss and gas exchange all with the view to retarding quality loss. Moreover, wax that is used on the market is a blend of carnauba wax with shellac resin. Shellac is a resin excreted from insects and as a result, fruits treated with shellac blends may not be appealing to vegans. On the contrary, EcoPEC is plant-derived and is 100% vegan. In addition, the fact that EcoPEC is an edible coating, it takes away the need to use plastic-based packaging.
EcoPEC is a product that complies with local and international food regulations. The antimicrobials used in EcoPEC have an internationally recognized GRAS status (Generally Regarded As Safe) as per the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. Moreover, the antimicrobials (Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate) will be added at levels not exceeding their maximum tolerable levels.