A 26-year-old Harvard University graduate is earning international accolades for Fenugreen, a patented produce packing paper that she says increases the shelf life of fruit and vegetables.
Kavita Shukla says her Fenugreen FreshPaper can more than double the shelf life of fresh produce, depending on the item. The paper, which is made in the U.S., is infused with a solution of organic botanical extracts based on her grandmother’s home remedy.
That home remedy kept Shukla from becoming ill when she accidentally swallowed unsafe water in India years ago, and sparked an idea for a junior high science project showing how the substance inhibits bacterial growth. That work led to Shukla being granted a patent for Fenugreen while she was still in high school.
“Originally, I wanted to develop it so I could distribute it for free in less developed parts of the world that don’t have refrigeration to keep their food fresh,” Shukla said. “The commercial applications didn’t really occur to me.”
The commercial potential of Fenugreen FreshPaper was immediately apparent to medical doctor Swaroop Samant, who has partnered with Shukla to form Fenugreen LLC. They launched it earlier this year in Boston.
The organic botanical extracts infused into Fenugreen FreshPaper inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus, basically “freezing the produce in a moment in time,” Shukla said. A key ingredient is fenugreek.
Other products marketed to extend fresh produce shelf life work by either absorbing ethylene gas to slow decomposition or involve applying chemical substances to fruit and vegetables.
Unlike most of those products, Fenugreen is certified for use with organic produce and Shukla said that segment of the fresh produce industry is particularly interested in it. It also carries the Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS designation, indicating it is generally recognized as safe.
Fenugreen FreshPaper is available to consumers in a number of independent and chain retail grocers in Massachusetts and online at www.fenugreen.com. Shukla and Samant are also in talks with produce growers, packers and distributors.
In its liquid form, Fenugreen can be applied to produce packaging or directly to fruits and vegetables. The Fenugreen FreshPaper can be used for weeks on retail produce shelves, in consumers’ homes or in distribution centers before it loses its effectiveness, Samant said.
Shukla has earned international recognition for Fenugreen FreshPaper. In 2010 it won an annual competition at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Boston.
Other honors include recognition from the American Society for Horticultural Science, Institute of Food Technologies, DuPont Excellence in Research, and the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors Hall of Fame inductee.