A Miracle of Science? Making your Produce Last Longer

Those of you who’ve tuned into Kitchen Nightmares know that the horror usually begins when Gordon Ramsey delves into the restaurant’s refrigerators and pantries only to find raw chicken with a lovely sheen of gray and tomatoes having passed their edible stage by, oh, about a month. In these moments, viewers write down the name of the restaurant in order to remind themselves never to go there and, despite Ramsey’s best intentions, another restaurant has gone the way of the woolly mammoth.

Food Waste

Almost half of all food produced in America is thrown away—that’s about 6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables that find their way into landfills every year. While much of this is due to spoilage, another percentage is due to imperfections that the American consumer has deemed unworthy of consumption. And this is just in the fields. The average American throws away almost 31.6 million tons of food every year and restaurants contribute to a large percentage of the produce that ends up in the landfills as well. Business Insider revealed, “According to an analysis by the Green Restaurant Association, a single restaurant can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in one year.”  While organizations such as Feedback and Imperfect are promoting low-cost alternatives and developing a chain so that leftover restaurant food can find its way to people in need, another solution is edging into the spotlight: an edible coating that can extend a fruit or vegetable’s shelf life.

 

The Miracle of Science

Apeel Sciences is the Santa Barbara-based company behind this brain child. What they have created is a natural, organic, thin, invisible peel that protects fruits and vegetables from the effects of oxidation and water loss that cause discoloration and shrinkage.  It’s a plant-based formula made from the edible oils that form the protective coating on fruits and vegetables.  It is tasteless and is said to extend the shelf life of produce by as much as five times.

Two of the company’s products, Edipeel and Invisipeel, have been deemed safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. Edipeel is a postharvest protection product while Invisipeel is a preharvest product. Every package of Edipeel is designed for a different type of produce. Right now, they offer Edipeel for bananas, strawberries, blueberries, avocados, mangos and citrus. This solution is currently available to select growers. 

Invisipeel is just that—an invisible layer, much like Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, that makes fruits and vegetables wearing this organic disguise unrecognizable to pests. Pretty remarkable. It is currently in the R & D phase. When it does hit the market, restaurants in line with the growing organic trends will undoubtedly be scouting out growers that use these solutions.

 

Food Costs

Food is one of a restaurant’s biggest costs, and much of the costs are seen going into the trash bin in the form of waste. LeanPath, a food tracking company, believes quick-serve restaurants could reduce their food costs by as much as 10 percent by tracking food wastes. Once you know what’s being thrown away and why, you can alter purchases as well as the menu and portion control. In order to be profitable, a dining establishment should aim for food costs that are 35 percent or below. Many restaurants are aiming for the 30 percent mark in these economically challenging times.

 

Proper Storage & Shelf Life

So how does a restaurant keep from becoming a Kitchen Nightmare lookalike? By having the right systems in place which include purchases, inventory and proper storage. Knowing what fruits and vegetables should be stored together and the average shelf life of various produce can help determine purchases and keep food costs in line. When storing, consider this tip:

Ethylene is a gas produced by fruits and vegetables. Some produce is sensitive to ethylene’s affects and will ripen, and spoil, when stored near fruits and vegetables that give off a larger-than-usual amount of this gas. Sensitive foods include apples, broccoli, cucumbers, greens, potatoes and watermelons. Foods that are heavy ethylene producers include avocados, bananas, cantaloupes and honeydew melons, as well as kiwis, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes.

Knowing the shelf life of food is also an important part of purchasing and alters, to some degree, your First In, First Out (FIFO) inventory management. For instance, asparagus is at its peak for only one or two days while bell peppers can last up to two weeks. Think of “hard” vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots and celery in the good for a week category while “soft” vegetables such as leafy greens and eggplants may only have a few days before spoilage begins to set in. 

Mind you, once Apeel Science’s products become a national trend, these types of figures may well have to be revised. It’s a good incentive for restaurateurs to look for growers and suppliers that use these types of products that are good for both business and the environment.

 

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