A PhD Candidate at Australia's Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is testing the efficacy of packaging and processing for extending the shelf life of a very fragile and perishable fruit - the humble raspberry.
In the process, Nha (Nha) Huynh hopes to solve two interlinked problems for the state's berry industry - packaging and shelf life.
The research is part of Huynh’s project with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Innovative Horticultural Products, located at TIA.
The scientist is doing the research with Costa Berries, which supplied the raspberries for her trials.
"The shelf life of raspberries is relatively short, compared to larger fruit,” Huynh said.
"It's really important that raspberries are stored well in the right packaging to optimise freshness and also to prevent damage."
Huynh mentioned the hollow structure of berries meant they need to be handled with care, including when being washed.
"Moisture gets into the berry, which can lead to reduced freshness after several days," she said.
Keeping berries fresh for longer is a ‘Catch-22’: The berries lose moisture from refrigeration but need to be refrigerated to stay fresh.
Huynh is testing the quality of the berries after being stored for two weeks in different packaging and with different atmospheric conditions.
"MAP [modified atmosphere] packaging, on its own, is not designed for any one specific fruit or vegetable. But because it’s sealed packaging, we can alter and test the levels of natural gasses in the atmosphere,” Huynh said.
"I'm trying to determine the most beneficial atmospheric composition in the packaging."
Packaging alone is not able to control mold and decay. It needs to be tailored to suit the produce, so Huynh is also researching processing methods which may help.
"Exact techniques, like using the right amount of water, are critical to the shelf life of the berries," she said.
Costa senior food safety and quality assurance specialist, Ben Fisher, has been working with Huynh on the project.
"There’s a lot of research and thought behind our products, and it’s fantastic to be collaborating with up-and-coming food scientists such as Nha," Fisher said.
"The berry industry is only as good as the product, and freshness and shelf life are obviously essential to avoid food waste.
"This research will contribute to making sure our storage and packaging is as good as it can be using the latest technology."
Findings for the research were expected to be presented in greater depth at the Training Centre Conference, held from March 20-21 at the University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay.