Researchers at the University of Florida, through a grant from Wal-Mart, are studying how to reduce waste in strawberries during transport and in store displays.

Wal-Mart grant examines strawberry waste during handlingA $180,000 National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative grant, part of a $3 million overal grant program on strawberry research from the Wal-Mart Foundation, is funding research on ways to reduce postharvest strawberry waste through improved distribution management and temperature tracking, according to a news release.

The study could help the industry move to a first-expired/first-out distribution model that could provide distribution savings and improved product for consumers, according to the release.

The first-in/first-out distribution system often increases the possibility of consumer waste according to 10 years of research by Jeffrey Brecht, director of the Research Center for Food Distribution and Retailing at the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

In first-in/first-out systems, strawberry shipments with short shelf lives are kept in storage while longer-lived ones that could wait a few days are put out first which results in fruit spoiling soon after consumer purchases, according to the release.

Wal-Mart grant examines strawberry waste during handlingBrecht’s research colleagues created a shelf life model that evaluates variables including temperature during harvest, heat exposure during the unloading of shipments, and cooling systems in distribution centers and stores.

The group plans to measure temperature variability in 15 Wal-Mart strawberry shipments from Florida and California to different parts of the country.

They plan to use the model to show them which shipments should be placed on store shelves first and survey consumers to measure satisfaction with berry quality, according to the release.

“A lot of the time you have strawberries on display that look really good, but are not necessarily of great quality,” Brecht said in the release. “With better distribution, we hope for more long-term quality so the fruit will actually be eaten.”