The U.S. Navy is experimenting with technology to maintain freshness of fruits and vegetables aboard ships.

Navy fights food rot with ethylene systemThe Navy is installing ethylene control systems on two aircraft carriers, the Eisenhower in Norfolk, Va., and the Carol Vinson in San Diego.

As the technology helps store produce longer, Navy foodservice officials say they hope it could help encourage sailors to eat more fresh produce.

Depending how the tests fare, the Navy is considering installing the small and self-contained units in other ships to help extend fruit and vegetable shelf life, said Commander Danny King, director of Navy Foodservice in McKeansburg, Pa.

Mounted inside refrigerated containers, the technology can boost shelf life by a couple of days to up to 21 days, critical for ships on long ocean journeys, King said.

King said extending shelf life should support the Navy"s efforts to promote health and nutrition.

"The investment costs are minimal compared to the return," King said. "Extending the shelf life by even a couple of days helps out. There"s a big cost savings there as far as fresh fruits and vegetables going bad in some cases if they"re not eaten within a certain period of time.

"Even extending it a couple of days is a big plus," he said. "It can mean the difference between your next underway ship-to-ship replenishment."

In addition to the installations on ships, the Navy is testing the ethylene systems on other non-Navy military applications, including refrigerated containers, said Tony Patti, team leader of the equipment and energy technology group with the Defense Department"s Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass.

The ethylene units, which cost $300 a year to maintain, take advantage of ultraviolet light and ozone technology inside the box, Patti said.

"These units really extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by detecting and absorbing the gas producing ethylene," he said. "It also reduces and absorbs the odor impact, particularly if the fruit rots. It eliminates spore, molds and microbes, which produce safety issues."

Woburn, Mass.-based Primaira LLC manufactures the trademarked Bluezone fresh preservation technology it initially developed for U.S. Army applications.

The units require limited space and power and can be easily mounted in varying setups, Patti said.

Once treated, the unit exhausts the air back into the refrigerated container.

King said the systems should help the Navy encourage sailors to place more fresh fruits and vegetables on their plate.

He said the Navy is also trying to encourage operations to provide more fresh produce as "grab and go" items to promote healthy snacking for crew members.

King said the Navy handles large volumes of produce. Last year, it served 92 million meals through its $424 million foodservice budget.

He said the Navy purchases fresh products from markets all over the world.