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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Food Quality Laboratory » Research » Research Project #438414

Research Project: Reducing Postharvest Loss and Improving Fresh Produce Marketability and Nutritive Values through Technological Innovations and Process Optimization

Location: Food Quality Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-43440-006-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jun 1, 2020
End Date: May 31, 2025

Objective 1. Enhance key organoleptic and nutritional qualities of major horticultural crops using emerging production and post-harvest handling practices. Sub-obj. 1A. Improve food quality and nutrition, and harvesting efficiency for vegetables grown via controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Sub-obj. 1B. Develop novel technologies to support NASA’s mission in growing microgreens in space. Objective 2. Reduce post-harvest loss and waste and enhance marketability of fresh produce. Sub-obj. 2A. Non-destructive monitoring of produce quality and maturity via a paper sensor. Sub-obj. 2B. Improve quality and shelf life of fresh produce through collaborative breeding and cultivar selection. Sub-obj. 2C: Predicting consumers’ preferences for fruits and vegetables through advanced analyses of digital imagery and emotions. Objective 3. Improve product quality and sustainability through novel fresh-cut processing technologies and process optimization. Sub-obj. 3A. Develop novel fresh-cut produce wash and disinfection technologies for comprehensive improvement in food quality and safety. Sub-obj. 3B. Determine chemical profile of fresh-cut produce wash water in support of cost-effective water treatment and reuse. Sub-obj. 3C. Assess the potential use of nanoparticle coatings on the contact surface of equipment to optimize fresh-cut processing.

This project takes an integrated and holistic approach to tackle major food security problems by supporting efficient growth and harvesting of nutrient-dense food products and reducing post-harvest food loss and waste. This project consists three objectives. In objective 1, we will investigate the effect of light wavelength, intensity, and photoperiod on the growth, sensorial quality, and phytonutrient content of specialty vegetables. We will develop mechanical devices to facilitate harvesting of microgreens while minimizing tissue damage. We will also develop and/or evaluate soil mixes and soil-less growth media for seed fixation in microgravity. In objective 2, our team of scientists will collaborate with ARS breeders to identify lettuce cultivars resistant to enzymatic browning and having improved post-harvest quality and shelf life. We will continue collaborating with our university partner (and co-inventor) to advance our patent-pending paper sensor array for nondestructive quality evaluation. In objective 3, we will work with our industry partners to further develop, optimize, and commercialize our patented produce washing and disinfection technology. We will develop and optimize a novel in-flight washing system to improve the food quality and safety of fresh-cut products. This will be a continuation and expansion of the patented in-flight washing technology developed under a previous project. We will also investigate the major chemical components of fresh-cut produce wash water and develop approaches to support safe and cost-effective water reuse. Specifically, we will identify major compounds present in produce; their release during cutting; their reactivity with free chlorine during different washing stages; how such reaction contributes to the loss of free chlorine in wash water, and to difficulties in maintaining adequate chlorine levels; the type and amount of harmful disinfectant byproducts thus produced during washing; and effective methods to remove or mitigate the chemical oxygen demand (COD) and chlorine demand (CLD) in wash water during fresh-cut processing.