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Asparagus system significantly extends shelf life

Israeli-headquartered packaging and logistics provider StePac is targeting UK fresh produce importers and supermarkets with a modified atmosphere/modified humidity packaging system which can reportedly extend fresh asparagus's storage and shelf life by up to 36 days.

The DS Smith Plastics-owned company, which has UK support offices in Rugby, says European asparagus demand has risen significantly in recent years. Consequently it has begun aggressively marketing its Xtend “post-harvest system” within the Continent’s major asparagus-eating countries.

Sarah Taylor, UK technical support manager, explains: “Experience shows consumers will pay a premium for high quality asparagus, and the longer it remains in excellent condition, the better. By substantially extending storage and on-shelf display times, retailers can command a premium price.”

Xtend uses bags made from “off-the-shelf” and “unique” polymers that control modified atmosphere and relative humidity to keep the contents fresher longer. Taylor elaborates: “The key is achieving optimal CO2 and oxygen transmission rates and humidity – enough to prevent water loss but not so much as to produce condensation in the bag. The CO2 levels are raised but not so high as to cause increased sensitivity to chilling and pitting and the oxygen levels reduced, but not so low as to cause discolouration. Maintaining precise humidity levels is critical too. To ensure this, the bags’ micro-perforated structure allows excess moisture to escape.”

StePac offers MAP/modified humidity asparagus packaging in two main formats – bulk liner bags, which will hold several large bundles, and are shipped by container within a corrugated outer, and consumer units, which can be taken straight from case to shelf.

Taylor explains: “In both instances the asparagus may be packed into corrugated cartons without needing to use water-soaked pads. Conventionally shoots are packed upright to avoid the shoots bending – a geotropic response whereby shoots will grow upwards. If packed horizontally the spears may arrive with bent tips, making them visually unappealing and perhaps even unsellable. We have perfected a way to package the spears horizontally inside the case, keeping them in tip-top condition.”