Malaysian researchers are developing natural products, bio-fungicides and ozone treatments to enhance the storage and shelf life of tropical fruits.

Image: University of Nottingham Malaysia

In developing countries, disease and decay can inflict huge losses on food that left the field in perfect condition. These losses occur during harvesting, handling, shipment and after purchase by the consumer.

Led by Dr Asgar Ali, researchers at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus are developing new technologies to reduce food losses and improve food quality and safety. Their aim is to increase profits for growers and marketers while making quality and nutritious food available to consumers.

“In developing countries, losses of between 10 to 50% have been recorded,” says Dr Ali. “Tropical countries have a particular problem because of the number of microorganisms that exist due to humidity. Cutting post-harvest losses could add a sizable quantity to the global food supply.”

Dr Ali’s team has been exploring a range of natural biodegradable materials that can be applied as edible coatings to protect food from microbial infestation while delaying ripening. “Farmers are currently using pesticides to reduce [post-harvest losses], but we are trying to develop technologies that are free from synthetic chemicals and fungicides,” he says. “We are using natural products and bio-fungicides, or physical treatments such as ozone and negative ions, to enhance the storage and shelf life of tropical fruits.”

For example, in the first research of its kind, PhD student Mehdi Maqbool is looking at ways of developing edible coatings from natural gum arabic powder to extend the shelf life of fruit. His research is focused on the banana and papaya: two of Malaysia’s most common crops. These fruits are susceptible to diseases that occur in cold storage and also have a short shelf life.

“Natural gum arabic is already used as an emulsifier in cold drinks and sweets,” says Maqbool. “In liquid form, gum arabic can create a thin edible film around the fruit, which creates a modified atmosphere protecting it from disease and decay.”

Dr Ali’s team has already proved the concept of this technology and is now negotiating with industry to conduct product trials. The researchers have also successfully applied other natural products – including essential oils and propolis, a resinous substance collected by bees to seal gaps in their hives – as edible coatings for tropical fruits.

 

For further information contact:

Dr Asgar Ali
Associate Professor, Postharvest Technology
Director, Centre of Excellence for Postharvest Biotechnology, School of Biosciences
The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Email: asgar.ali@nottingham.edu.my