Ethylene-removing technology used in avocado industry

07/30/2009 12:31:50 PM
Jim Offner

Jimmy Lee sees the technology he markets in simple terms: If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for the avocado industry.

Lee’s company, Kennesaw, Ga.-based KES Science and Technology Inc., is bringing its AiroCide PPT Food Safety air sanitation technology to produce warehouses, including avocado distributors.

“One of our largest customers is Del Monte Fresh, and they are specifically using this technology to do away with ethylene gas in their avocado coolers,” said Lee, vice president of sales and marketing. “They’ve told us it provides longer shelf life and less ethylene damage.”

Del Monte Fresh, Coral Gables, Fla., has used the technology in its avocado coolers for three years, Lee said.

The technology comes directly from NASA.

“It all started when NASA was trying to grow ag products on the space station,” he said. “As they grew the vegetables, there was an amount of ethylene gas. They had to come up with a way to oxidize or get rid of that gas.”

The AiroCide system is designed to protect against airborne cross-contamination through a no-ozone system, Lee said.

The technology, photocatalytic oxidiation, is used in combination with UV rays, he said.

“We do not use any chemicals,” he said.

There are a number of other competing technologies, Lee said.

“There’s a number of companies that claim they can remove pathogens or ethylene gas. They use ozone or hydrogen peroxide. In other words, they’re putting something into the air,” he said. “We run the air through the reactor and purify the air of anything organic or any volatile organic compounds or any gas like ethylene.”

Once ethylene is injected into a ripening room or cooler, the gas can escape when a door is opened, Lee noted.

“It can escape and actually linger and also penetrate other coolers within that facility,” he said. “The way they do that is, Del Monte constantly takes ethylene readings, air samples, and everything they did was internal; we had no part in that. When they first utilized this tech, they came back to us and said obviously it works.”

How does it work for avocados?

“Understanding how levels of ethylene gas can prematurely ripen avocados or shorten shelf life or affect the appearance, if you can get it down to a level to where it’s not detrimental to the fruit, naturally you’re able to extend the shelf life, which everybody is looking to find a way to do,” he said.

The technology is catching on, he said.

“We’ve had great results over the past couple of years,” he said. “We’ve had a number of companies using the technologies, a large retailer, Whole Foods, using it at store level and a number of their retail distribution centers.”

It’s an efficient system, Lee said.

“A lot of comments are we’re saving money with labor, as far as cleaning coolers less frequently,” he said. “Coolers have to be cleaned periodically just to sanitize them. If you’re able to keep mold from growing, that’s a cost saving from the sanitation part.”

Avocado distributors will find the technology works well for them, Lee said.

“It’s just a matter of time before people actually see a return on investment,” he said. “That, in itself, has always been an obstacle in the food business. We’ve taken it to a global marketplace, and they’ve embraced it. We’re scrambling to find new manufacturing locations.”



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