From the time a farmer harvests strawberries or green beans, they will last — at best — three weeks before they start to rot. It takes a week or two to reach the grocery store and then your fridge, giving you only a few days to eat them.
A Santa Barbara-based startup called Apeel Sciences says it has invented edible coatings that can extend a fruit or vegetable’s shelf life by as much as five times. That means, if you spray it on a ripe strawberry that’s starting to wither it will last about a week longer than normal.
Made of leftover plant skins and stems, the coatings act as barriers that slow down the decay process. You can apply it to produce anytime during its lifespan — Apeel could even make a bunch of bananas grown at the same time each ripen on a different day.
Six farms in Southern California, Kenya, and Nigeria are using Apeel’s products, CEO James Rogers tells Business Insider.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Apeel’s first products, Edipeel and Invisipeel, as “generally recognised as safe,” meaning they’re OK to eat and sell.
Here’s how they work.
Apeel's products, called Edipeel and Invisipeel, are transparent coatings you spray on or dip produce in.
Edipeel keeps water from leaving and oxygen from entering produce, while Invisipeel is for keeping insects away (these are both processes that make produce decay). To get the benefits of both products, you need to apply both.
After the coatings dry, they act as shields to natural gases (e.g. oxygen and ethylene) that make produce decay. With the barrier, produce lasts up to five times longer than untreated produce, Rogers says.
Apeel is testing Invisipeel and Edipeel on all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Below is a timelapse comparison of ripe strawberries -- the startup treated the bottom row with Edipeel:
Here's what ripe bananas look like over the course of 10 days. The pair on the right is coated with Edipeel:
The untreated green beans on the left shrivel up after just a few days, while the Edipeel ones stand strong:
Produce with Apeel's products can last an extra two to five days without refrigeration before it starts to rot too, Rogers says. The startup -- first spotted by The New York Times -- is also testing on avocados, tomatoes, and leafy greens.
The coatings are made from molecules of the discarded materials from organic produce -- anything from pear stems to leftover grape skins from wine fermentation to grass clippings.
'We don't discriminate,' Rogers says.
When the liquid coating dries, it interacts with a fruit or vegetable's molecules and helps preserve it.
The Apeel team is also working on using the Edipeel and Invisipeel technology to make fabric that's water-resistant yet breathable.
Rogers came up with the idea for Apeel's products while pursuing a PhD at the University of California-Santa Barbara. On regular trips from campus to a lab in Berkeley, he often passed farms.
Rogers began to think about stainless steel, which includes a carbon and iron barrier that keeps the metal from rusting. He then wondered if he could use the same strategy to protect produce. 'That was the genesis of Apeel,' he says.
Apeel aims to sell its products for a price higher than normal produce, but lower than organic, Rogers says. The products could help reduce farming and transportation costs, thus lowering produce's costs.
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