Irradiated fruit can pave the way for tree-ripened mangoes in the U.S. market, said Roger Gay, chief executive officer of Cocanmex, Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico.
“We used to do the hot water bath, but with a 90- to 110-minute soak at 117 degrees, it just kills any flavor the mango could possibly have,” Gay said.
Several years ago, Gay felt so strongly about the lack of quality and flavor with water-treated mangoes that the company stopped using the hot water bath treatment altogether and began focusing on shipping mangoes only to Europe and Canada, where the treatment is not required.
However, last year, when the Benebion irradiation facility in Matehuala, Mexico, was certified by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, Gay could again begin shipping mangoes to the U.S.
Arved Deecke, founder of the Benebion facility, said the process is fully overseen by USDA inspectors.
“The truck comes to the facility and the inspector receives samples to check for fruit flies. Treatment is then administered and monitored using state of the art dosimetry systems. This ensures that the accurate radiation dose was received,” he said.
Deecke said his facility uses gamma rays for the treatment process, although electron beam and X-ray methods are also legal.
“Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Electron beams can treat product very quickly and is cost-effective but is too shallow for many tropical fruits,” he said.
“X-Rays and gamma can both treat fruit in industrial pallet loads, with gamma being considered the more cost-effective and reliable of the two.”
Deecke said irradiation offers several benefits, although the quality of the fruit is a key aspect for shippers to consider.
For Gay, the main benefit comes in the form of flavor, specifically the sugar content of his tree-ripened mangoes.
“With irradiated mangoes, you can cut it at 13 or 14 brix, which means it is tree-ripened, giving it that much more flavor,” he said.
To explain further, Gay said that most mangoes are cut at 7 brix in order to withstand the hot water treatment.
“You have to cut it very green to withstand the hot water treatment because it’s practically boiled at 117 degrees for 90 minutes,” he said.
His mangoes are harvested around 13 brix. By the time they reach the retail level, they are close to 15 or 16 brix, according to Gay.
“For the last 25 years, no one in the U.S. has eaten a tree-ripened mango, and we are now supplying those to the market through irradiation,” he said.
Still, there is still some resistance to the new technology, which Gay believes comes mostly from the terminology.
“Some consumers are afraid of the term irradiated, he said.
But large chain grocery stores are starting to demand more flavor and better taste, and only the natural sugars from tree-ripened fruit can provide that, Gay said.
“I think irradiation is the future. Whether it takes five years or 15 years, I think just about anything shipped into the U.S. will be irradiated,” he said.