​Fruit spray developed by Guelph prof extends shelf life by 50 per cent

An all-natural spray, developed by University of Guelph researcher Jay Subramanian, could do wonders to reduce food waste and enhance food security by extending the shelf life of fruit by up to 50 per cent.

All-natural spray could help reduce food waste

Jay Subramanian's has developed a spray that would extend the lifespan of peaches and nectarines by at least week - doubling its shelf life. (Regina Boone/Detroit Free Press)

An all-natural spray, developed by University of Guelph researcher Jay Subramanian and his team of scientists, could do wonders to reduce food waste and enhance food security by extending the shelf life of fruit by up to 50 per cent. 

The spray uses a nanotechnology-based application of hexanal, a natural plant extract that prevents fruit spoilage. 

"Before [fruit] rot, they start to shrivel. The shriveling is the way fruit shows its age," said Subramanian, a professor of plant agriculture at the Ontario Agriculture College at the University of Guelph.

The hexanal inhibits the enzyme that breaks down cell walls, which causes shriveling and rot, Subramanian explained. 

"Once the walls are protected, the cells are intact and so the whole fruit stays intact," he said, meaning the fruit stays fresh longer.

Natural product, perfectly safe

The product is applied one and two weeks before the fruit is harvested. Alternatively, fruit can be dipped into the solution after harvest, then gently washed off.

The result is fruit that lasts up to 50 per cent longer after harvest, Subramanian said. Mangoes, he said, keep fresh for up to 23 days, bananas for up to 40 days and peaches and nectarines – which normally only keep fresh for a week – can see their shelf life extended for another 10 days. 

The treatment is perfectly safe, Subramanian said.

"It is a natural product, produced by every single plant. So if you've ever eaten a fruit, you've eaten this compound," he said.

Subramanian said they've seen similar results with tomatoes and broccoli, though most of his research has been on fruit because it travels further and tends to spoil more quickly than vegetables.

The product still has to pass the necessary regulations before it can be used in agriculture here in Canada, but it has been licensed by Canadian startup Harvest One, with an eye on worldwide distribution in the next two to four years. 

The project was funded by Global Affairs Canada through the International Development Research Program, and involved research partners in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tobago.

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