Wednesday, August 1, 2012


According to some estimates almost 40% of the fresh produce grown in the world are spoiled due to physiological changes and microbiological spoilage. How far this is true may be difficult to assess because there is no unanimity on the subject of post-harvest food losses among experts. But one thing is certain that a significant quantity is lost, especially in countries where preservation facilities and cold storage infrastructure are limited. Even in rich countries there are considerable food losses at the consumer level, some conscious and others inevitable. Recent reports about the prevalence of "vegetable anxiety" syndrome among the house wives in western countries, especially during the summer season, due to their inability to save all fresh produce purchased at lower costs is a manifestation of this lacuna. As seasonal gluts in fresh produce are very common and the capacity of the refrigerators is generally not high, most of the items purchased end up in the garbage bin. While food industry in developed world have the wherewithal to minimize spoilage during its journey from the field to the fork, it is the at the consumer end, whether house holds or commercial caterers, where most of the wastage occurs. A simple technology developed recently is being touted as an answer to this vexed problem and here are some details of the same according to the scientists who claim several advantages for the new technique.

"Berries turning to moldy mush, dying an ignoble death in the blink of an eye; beautiful greens transforming into brown slimy leaves; mushroom sprouting new forms of fuzzy life within their gills -- these are the tragedies that befall too many a kitchen. In fact, 25 percent of the world's food supply is lost to spoilage. The Massachusetts-based company, Fenugreen, aims to address this waste with its simple innovation, FreshPaper. Fenugreen was founded by two friends, Kavita M Shukla, inventor of FreshPaper, and Swaroop Samant, a medical doctor. Kavita developed and patented FreshPaper while in high school, after she stumbled upon its spices and botanicals in a medicinal hot drink given to her by her grandmother in India to prevent a reaction to contaminated tap water. The five-inch square paper is comprised of edible organic botanical extracts, and is simply placed into refrigerator drawers, cartons, bags and containers with produce. With no zeolite, sodium permanganate, charcoal, or plastic, a sheet extends produce life by two to four times. The simple magic happens thanks to a secret mix of herbs -- similar to what are used for medicinal purposes -- that inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, as well as degradative enzymes. Sheets can be used and reused over the course of two or three weeks and then composted."

There are many simple methods to preserve food but most of them are suited only for commercial applications. The good old preservation techniques like salt steeping, sugar infusion, sun drying etc are still suitable for house holds but they have the inherent drawback of changing the flavor, texture and taste typical of the food preserved. Use of a specially treated paper strip in the refrigerator to avoid early infection with mold and fungus, as reported by the scientists above, if proven by further trials, may be a boon to the house wives who can store more fresh produce for longer time without any fear of rotting before use. Probably this is the first time that a low tech process is available to the consumer for practicing at home. Added to the advantage mentioned above, since the paper is impregnated with natural plant extracts with proven anti-bacterial credentials, its use is considered absolutely safe with no risk to any one. While the "inventors" have every right to patent their findings, care needs to be exercised not to impose heavy financial strain on users through a high pricing strategy. It is worth while for governments in many developing countries to buy the technology outright by one time payment and disseminate the same widely for use by house wives.


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