Post-harvest microbiological environmental quality in berries

oxyion

In the food sector, consumers mark out the guidelines on the market through their demand. The trend in the current context is aimed at healthy, more sustainable foods, such as red fruits or berries.

Spain is the fifth worldwide producer of red fruits, with Huelva as the province with the largest amounts of exports to Europe, and it is also the most important strawberry production centre on the continent.

Fruit Today talked to Yolanda Moreno, head of the R&D+i area at Oxyion Europa to find out firsthand the benefits derived from applying their technology.

Why do you think implementing Oxyion’s technology in the post-harvest for berries is so important?

Berries must be harvested at their optimum point of ripeness, as they are non-climacteric fruit, therefore they do not continue ripening after harvesting, with the sole exception of bilberries.

Non-climacteric red fruits have a short shelf-life, limited to days, before reaching over-ripeness induced by senescence, which involves a loss in quality and, therefore, their market value. This is their main characteristic, as well as the fact that when they are harvested at their moment of organoleptic ripeness, they are more susceptible to suffering attacks from pathogen microorganisms owing to their high sugar content, mainly by fungi (Botrytis and Rhizopus), which make them rot and cause important losses for producers.

Owing to these characteristics of berries, Oxyion’s technology is the best ally in their post-harvest.

The greatest evidence of this is that a large number of berry marketers have implemented this technology, covering all the stages of the post-harvest process, managing to increase the shelf-life of the fruit, which is translated into greater profitability.

What is Oxyion’s technology based on?

This technology generates “in situ” reactive oxygen (ROS) and nitrogen (RNS) species from the air, without using any other synthetic chemical precursor.

These reactive species are strongly oxidant compounds, which are highly energetic and therefore, very reactive. They can react with the main biomolecules (nucleic acids, lipids and proteins) that make up the microorganisms, leading to their destruction. They also can interact with the functional molecules of the fruit’s metabolism, slowing down the breathing and perspiring processes, and so, lengthening their shelf-life.

How can the effect produced by the application of Oxyion be determined?

Oxyion Europa provides a periodic microbiological environmental surveillance service to its clients, which allows the efficiency and the optimum functioning of the technology to be checked, as well as qualifying the environmental quality of the areas where it has been applied.

Qualifying the environmental quality involves detecting and identifying any microbiological risks, and therefore applying corrective actions to prevent them or to keep them under control.

The European legislation currently in force does not specify the microbiological limits applicable to environmental pollution in the food industry. For this reason, the R&D+i department has established its own specifications for cold storage rooms and cold tunnels, based on the results obtained from the different analytical series carried out on clients from the berry sector over several years.

The environmental surveillance programme applied in each company is carried out using a unique protocol, developed and implemented by Oxyion Europa, in close collaboration with our clients’ quality departments.

What does this protocol consist of?

Basically, of carrying out bimonthly environmental controls. Air samples are taken in the different areas where the technology has been applied, in a representative and homogeneous way, using the active method of suction and impact sowing on substrate on Petri dishes.

Petri dishes with two different culture methods are used, for two groups of target microorganisms (psychrophilic aerobes and fungi).

The psychrophilic aerobes are considered to be general indicators that inform about the total microbiological load present, whilst the fungi is a specific indicator, as it causes the berries to rot.

The samples are sent to an accredited external laboratory for culturing and subsequent counting of the emerging colony units. Finally, the results obtained are given to the client as a report.

 

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