Young Entrepreneur: ChillSafe tech set for European continent
Attracting young talent has been a big challenge for the produce industry worldwide but over the course of recent years fruits and vegetables - like the food industry in general - are attracting greater interest from graduates as a career path.
However, it's not just a case of Millennials finding gainful employment but many are also becoming business leaders in the sector.
During the Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference earlier this month, www.freshfruitportal.com caught up with Thomas Williams, who graduated from Brunel University London in June this year and is already making his mark.
While at university, Williams and his business partner Ryan Nichols secured the rights to sell Australian-developed ChillSafe technology in the U.K., through the company Coolsan Europe.
In simple terms, ChillSafe is a sachet that releases hydrogen peroxide in a very small concentration, killing bacteria and mold while also destroying etyhlene, which is the natural gas released by fruits and vegetables that makes them ripen.
The sachets can be applied to cool rooms, storage areas or reefer containers.
"It works at ambient temperature as well. So long as there’s some sort of a sealed area where the sachet can go in, the Chill Safe vapor will work," said the 21-year-old.
"In supermarkets and what not, people walk in and out of the fridge all the time – that’s not a problem as long as they use good code of practice and don’t want to waste energy; they’ll shut the doors when they’re done in there and the sachet can fill the room.
"It can be applied at all points of the supply chain as long as there’s some sort of sealed area.
He said the product had so far gone very well in Australia, and had also been introduced in South Africa where many trials have been run through supermarkets.
"Lots of restaurants already use ChillSafe as part of their HACCP plans," he added.
After seeing the results in Australia and securing the rights for the U.K., Williams and Nichols sought to get a better feel for the produce sector.
"When we finished [university] we went to the London Produce Show as students, got some contacts, started to build our understanding of the produce industry," Williams said.
"I’m an aerospace engineer from my university degree - same with Ryan - so we’ve learned a lot over the last few months.
"Now we've expanded it to the European market," Williams said, adding the plan was to "expand into all countries in Europe".
He said the current product could cover spaces of 25 cubic meters, but in larger spaces the solution for the time being was to just add more sachets to cover the appropriate area - for example, in the case of a 50-cubic-meter storage space a company would only need two sachets.
"Hopefully we’re looking at introducing a larger industrial size sachet around July – in Australia they’ll be unveiling that," he said.
"The sachet that will be revealed in July will be more like 150 cubic meters.
"It uses the fan to recirculate around a cool room – obviously it’s a vapor so it gets into all the little nooks and crannies that can’t always be cleaned in conventional ways."
Williams said Coolsan Europe's U.K. customers had so far reported reductions in food waste since using the sachets, with cuts of up to 31% in one example.
"There’s a general feel of cleanliness in the cool rooms in general. Everything smells much fresher and cleaner, and there’s been extended shelf life of the product.
"I wouldn’t say the product improves the quality of produce; we say it maintains the quality of the produce by killing the bacteria, stopping the ethylene, the ripening process."
Addressing any chemical concerns
The most common questions received by Williams and Nichols are about the product's safety. After all, it is logical the words 'hydrogen peroxide' may not receive the best response from the public.
The levels of the chemical compound are minimal however. According to Coolsan co-founder Thomas de Masi, the hydrogen peroxide (H202) concentration in the ChillSafe sachet is just 1% when activated, which results in just a 0.05-0.01ppm of airborne H202 being released into the space.
"You can buy 4-6% concentration hydrogen peroxide from the supermarket – it doesn’t leave any residue on the food," Williams noted.
"It’s not like ozone - it uses a different ROS (reactive oxygen species) so in terms of any concerns about health and safety it’s been HACCP approved in Australia – there was a three-year test for that.
"In the U.K. we’re looking to get Campton Labs to put it through its paces and hopefully get some sort of certification from them, however we have had emails from the FSA (Food Standards Agency) saying that we don’t actually need any certification for this product.
"However we want to give our customers peace of mind – we want to put any concerns to rest so that people feel confident that what they’re putting in their fridges is safe and won’t cause any harm."
Several companies are also making strides introducing ozone technology to the food sector, so do Williams' comments imply there is something unhealthy about ozone?
"Ozone is actually banned in some countries and there’s a lot of stigma around ozone – I know in the aqueous form it’s not as harmful as the gaseous form, but ours is a similar type of process that’s going on, however it’s much less dangerous.
"That being said, there is much more research into ozone than hydrogen peroxide.
"They’re both a reactive oxygen species vapors – hydrogen peroxide is regarded as much safer," added Nichols.