Can washing techniques make our roots more durable?

Wednesday, 24 January, 2018

Adobestock 43487877

If the shelf life of root vegetables can be increased by 14 days, root vegetable waste would decrease by 5% at the retail level and by 30% in consumers’ homes according to Danish researchers.

Currently, most root vegetables are washed in cold water and brushed to remove visible dirt and make the produce more attractive to consumers. However, the downside of this procedure is the resulting surface damage to the vegetables makes them more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infection which leads to decay and reduces shelf life.

A group of Danish researchers led by Merete Edelenbos, Associate Professor in Department of Food Science, Aarhus University, is focusing on how the root vegetables are washed before they are packaged and sold. By reducing the wounds and scratches inflicted in the washing and brushing process, they hope to minimise bacterial and fungal access to the vegetables.

The research project, KvaliRod, is aiming to investigate whether hot washing water and essential oils such as thyme or oregano can increase the vegetables’ resistance to microbial infection.

“When root vegetables are rinsed in hot water, their inherent defence mechanisms are activated, making the vegetables more resistant towards infections. Further, we will examine whether adding essential oils with antimicrobial properties to the washing water will help increase shelf life. These may include thyme or oregano oils,” said Edelenbos.

“We expect to reduce the food waste of root crops by 5% in retail and 30% for consumers. It will also reduce CO2 emissions by 3000 tons annually. So there are big gains to pick up,” said Edelenbos.

Another aim of the project is to open the Chinese organic root vegetable market to Danish exporters.

“The organic market in China, for instance, holds significant potential, but so far, it has been out of our reach because of the reduced shelf life. We hope that the project will allow root crop producers to enter new markets,” said Edelenbos.

The $1.1 million Green Development and Demonstration Programme KvaliRod project is expected to be concluded in 2021 and the participants include the Department of Food Science, Aarhus University, along with Limfjord Danske Rodfrugter, Gl. Estrup Gartneri, Cabinplant, Sobec EMEA, AirVention, Gasa Odense Frugt og Grønt and ISI Food Protection.

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