Novel MAP (particularly, high O2) has the potential to maintain the quality and assure the microbial safety of fresh prepared produce. The commercial implementation and success of this new technology may encourage greater consumption of conveniently packed fresh prepared produce and help towards improving the health and well-being of consumers. A publication of practical guidance on high O2 MAP and non-sulphite dipping has already facilitated commercial exploitation of this new technology (Day, 2001a).
The following future research directions are suggested specifically with regard to the high O2 MAP of fresh prepared produce:
Further investigate the potential applications of an innovative dual-action O2 emitter/CO2 scavenger active packaging sachet that has been developed by Standa Industrie (Caen, France) and marketed by EMCO Packaging Systems (Worth, Kent, UK). Initial trials carried out by CCFRA and LinPac Plastics Limited (Pontefract, Yorkshire, UK) in association with several soft fruit suppliers have clearly demonstrated the shelf-life extending potential of this active packaging device (McGrath, 2000). This O2 emitter/CO2 scavenger sachet enables high O2 levels to be maintained within high O2 MA packs of respiring fresh prepared produce whilst simultaneously controlling CO2 below levels that may cause physiological damage to produce. The inclusion of this sachet within high O2 MA packs of fresh prepared produce that have a high intrinsic respiration rate and/or produce volume/gas volume ratio will prevent excessive depletion of in-pack O2 levels and build-up of in-pack CO2 levels. In addition, this sachet could also be utilised in low O2 MA packs of fresh prepared produce to prevent the development of undesirable anaerobic conditions during chilled storage.
Thoroughly investigate the potential synergy between high O2 MAP and other active packaging devices (e.g. moisture absorbers, ethylene scavengers and antimicrobial films) and suitable edible coatings and films (Day, 1994; Baldwin et al., 1995; Nussinovitch and Lurie, 1995; Rooney, 1999). The selection criteria of promising active packaging devices and edible coatings and films should be based on their technical efficacy, cost, regulatory status and consumer acceptability (Day, 2000).
Carry out further underpinning research investigations on the effects of high O2 MAP on the various spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms associated with fresh prepared produce items. Also, further research is merited on the effects of high O2 MAP on the beneficial nutritional components present in fresh produce and on the complex biochemical reactions and physiological processes that occur during storage.
• Establish optimal high O2 MAP applications for extending the quality shelf-life and assuring the microbial safety of further fresh prepared produce items and combination food products which consist of respiring produce and non-respiring food items (e.g. ready meals, pizzas, kebabs, etc.). Initial trials carried out by CCFRA have already clearly demonstrated that high O2 MAP is capable of extending the achievable shelf-life of several chilled ready meals, in comparison with CO2/N2 MAP and industry-standard air packing (Day, 2001b).
With respect to more general aspects of fresh prepared produce, the following knowledge gaps and suggested research directions are highlighted, in order to assist researchers in the future:
• Provide packaging film permeability data on commercial laminations and coextrusions at realistic chilled temperatures (0-10°C) and relative humidities (85-95%). At the time of writing, virtually all gas permeability data is quoted for single films at unrealistic storage temperatures and relative humidities (e.g. 23°C and 0% RH).
• Provide extensive respiration rate data on a wide variety of fresh prepared produce items at different chilled temperatures and under various gaseous storage conditions. At the time of writing, most respiration rate data available is for whole produce items stored in air.
• Provide data on the physiological tolerance of fresh prepared produce items to low (and possibly high) O2 levels and elevated CO2 levels. Currently, extensive data is available on the tolerance of whole produce items to low O2 and high CO2 levels (Kader et al., 1989) but there is a dearth of information on the tolerance of fresh prepared produce items to varying gaseous levels.
• Provide information on the residual effects of MAP on individual fresh prepared produce items after subsequent pack opening and storage in air.
• Thoroughly investigate an integrated approach to minimal processing techniques, which covers the entire chain from 'farm to fork', so as to maintain the quality and assure the microbial safety of fresh prepared produce (Ahve-nainen, 1996).
• Carry out further investigations on new and innovative natural preservatives, such as those produced by lactic acid bacteria and those derived from herbs and spices (Kets, 1999).
• Devise improved washing and decontamination procedures for fresh prepared produce that are based on safe non-chlorine alternatives.
• Develop peeling and cutting machinery that can process fresh produce more gently and hence extend the quality shelf-life of fresh prepared produce.
• Devote more resources into refrigeration equipment, design and logistics so that optimal storage temperatures for fresh prepared produce can be maintained throughout the entire chill chain.
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