Plastic waste: supermarkets test edible protective cover for fruits

The grocery trade is in a bind. Plastic packaging for cucumbers, avocados and Co. are taboo for more and more customers. But without the protective plastic cover, fruit and vegetables quickly become unsightly and therefore unsaleable.

Germany's largest food retailer Edeka and Rewe are therefore now testing new techniques to keep sensitive goods fresh for longer, even without plastic packaging. A wafer-thin, edible protective layer that is applied directly to the skin of the fruit is supposed to help. If less plastic leads to more waste, according to the Th√ľnen Institute, every German throws away an average of 85 kilograms of food a year. Efforts to avoid plastic have only exacerbated the problem. The absence of plastic films for cucumbers has, according to the "Lebensmittel Zeitung", led to the fact that significantly more Spanish cucumbers had to be destroyed last autumn because they had not survived the long journey without being damaged.

At the end of last year, Germany's largest food retailer Edeka started selling avocados in selected supermarkets and net branches that are provided with such a "second skin". It is said to slow down water loss and oxygen penetration. Both are the main causes of the rapid spoilage of the fruit.

Thanks to the coating, the sensitive fruits should stay fresh for two to three times as long as without the protective coating. In the first markets, oranges and tangerines are now also available, which have been made more durable with the new technology.

According to the manufacturer, the protective jacket developed by the US group Apeel Sciences consists of purely vegetable materials that are found in the skins, seeds and pulp of various types of fruit and vegetables. It is tasteless and odorless and edible without any problems. Strawberries could also be given a protective cover. Rewe, the competitor, is following suit these days – with avocados treated with a similar system. The coating here consists of natural sugar, cellulose and vegetable oils and comes from the British manufacturer AgriCoat NatureSeal. It should also be edible and well tolerated. The company announced that the fruits would be sold in up to 860 Rewe and Penny stores this week.

Other manufacturers are working on similar concepts against food waste. For example, British researchers have developed a sensor that costs just a few cents and can determine whether meat and fish are still edible. Up to now, the new coating processes in Germany have only been used for fruits whose skin is not consumed. In the long run, however, the coating could also become common with other products. The US company Apeel, with which Edeka works, has developed recipes for 30 different types of fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, apples and peppers. The company is currently preparing an application for approval with the European Commission.
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