By the time produce reaches a consumer’s house, there’s a good chance it will wind up in the garbage can or in the compost heap because it has gone bad. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 40 percent of it is tossed out.
That’s not just money thrown away. It’s waste all the way back to the farm.
“From the farmer, to the wholesaler, to the distributor and to the retailer, their price includes that loss of 40 percent,” said George Pierce, a Georgia State microbiologist. “In the case of the farmer, they’ve already paid for the labor, the fertilizer, the fuel, everything to produce that crop.”
Pierce has found a way to keep that waste from happening. He’s discovered a new, natural and safe way to keep produce and flowers fresh for longer periods of time.
His method uses a catalyst that induces enzymes in a naturally occurring microorganism to slow down the ripening process. It doesn’t involve genetic engineering or pathogens, and better yet, it doesn’t even have to be in contact with fruits, vegetables or flowers to work.
“When one looks at consumer safety, it’s something that doesn’t have to go on the crop. You don’t have to rinse your peaches in it,” Pierce said.
The catalyst can be put into the shipping cartons or in the air, and can allow for the storage of produce at room temperatures rather than refrigeration, saving energy.
Pierce’s invention is the result of work on a search for nitrogen-containing compounds and investigation into the degradation process.
“We thought,” he said, “that based on the compounds that plants make, perhaps there was something that the bacteria could also react with, and if they did that, it would slow down this ripening process. And it was unlike most scientific experiments. This actually worked the first time.”