Newsletter: September 25, 2018

Researched and written weekly by the editorial team of Food Technology magazine, the IFTNEXT Newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food through original reporting of scientific breakthroughs, leading-edge technology, novel food components, and transdisciplinary R&D.

Apeel avocadosStart-up fights food waste by extending produce’s shelf life
We’ve all been there: You buy some avocados, strawberries, and asparagus at the grocery store with the good intention of eating more fruits and vegetables, but then—before you know it—the strawberries are growing mold, the asparagus has become slimy, and the avocado has turned to mush. Food spoilage is one of the main reasons that Americans throw away more than 400 pounds of food per person, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. 

Apeel Sciences, a start-up based in California, is trying to reduce food waste by extending the shelf life of produce. The company’s solution is an invisible, plant-based film that reinforces produce’s own skin. Made up of lipids and glycerolipids that are odorless, tasteless, and edible, the extra layer slows the rate of water loss and oxidation, the primary causes of spoilage. “By applying an invisible, edible ‘peel’ on the outside surface of fresh produce, Apeel maintains quality at farm gate, helps reduce retail shrink, and brings shoppers a longer window of time to enjoy fresh produce,” explains Michelle Sisson, marketing manager at Apeel Sciences. 

In June, the company introduced Apeel avocados to Costco and Harps Food Stores in the Midwest. And just this month, the start-up partnered with Kroger to debut Apeel avocados to 109 of the grocer’s stores in the Cincinnati market, with plans to expand to new cities soon.  

“We’ve had a great response to Apeel avocados,” says Sisson. “One of our earliest retail partners saw a 65 percentage-point jump in margin and a 10% sales lift across the Hass avocado category as a direct result of Apeel. This is the first evidence of the massive value creation opportunity in mitigating food waste at retail.” 

According to the company, Apeel can be applied to numerous produce categories—not just avocados—and helps the fruit and vegetables stay fresh two to three times longer than conventional produce. “We’ve seen shelf-life extension across dozens of produce categories, including fruits and vegetables that are consumed whole,” says Sisson. “We’re building on our success with avocados and citrus by launching Apeel for asparagus, apples, tomatoes, mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, and peppers in the near future.” 

To help make this ramp up possible, the company recently raised $70 million in new financing and has welcomed Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, onto its board of directors.  

“We’ll be using the funding to scale up teams and commercialize new products,” says Sisson. “Right now, we’re focused on scaling to meet retail demand for Apeel produce programs in the United States. We’ve been cleared for use in several countries and are actively working to bring Apeel fruits and vegetables to shoppers around the world in the near future.”


oregano and oregano oilOregano oil reduces infectivity of parasites
In developing countries, parasite infections in children are a persistent health problem. Researchers at the University of Illinois have determined that bioactive compounds in oregano can help reduce parasite infectivity.

“For the great majority of cases, parasites get into children bodies and find shelter in the intestine[s] due to poor water sanitation and personal hygiene,” says Juan Andrade, assistant professor of global nutrition at University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. “A great majority of the burden of disease in these settings is due to parasitic infection. This becomes a vicious cycle as disease reduces nutrient intake.” However, despite water purification techniques such as boiling water or adding chlorine to water, certain parasites, such as Cryptosporidium parvum, can still survive. “In low-income settings, most populations are exposed to viral, bacterial, and parasitical infection almost every day. Thus, the best prevention techniques might not be enough.” Once the parasites have infected the intestines, they prevent proper absorption of nutrients, which can lead to a host of health problems, including malnutrition, disease, and death.

Andrade and his research team have determined that natural compounds present in oregano—terpenoids—appear to be effective at reducing the infectivity of parasites. They have created an oregano essential oil containing carvacrol, thymol, linalool, terpinene, terpineol, and other terpenoids and used them in studies on parasite infections. The oregano essential oil appears to be effective at disrupting the replication of Cryptosporidium parvum. “Monoterpenes such as carvacrol and thymol are effective in addressing the infectivity of several types of parasites. This is important to note as carvacrol and thymol along with many other monoterpenes are not exclusive of oregano species,” Andrade says. “The reason for their efficacy or the mechanism of action is still unknown, and we know it might be species specific (both host and parasite).”

Andrade believes that parasitic infections in children can be reduced with foods made with functional ingredients such as oregano oil. He and his research team are working to develop ready-to-use foods containing the oregano essential oil to distribute in low-income countries. “We have developed prototypes similar to those used to address severe and moderate acute malnutrition in children (e.g., lipid-based nutrition supplements and ready-to-use therapeutic foods),” Andrade says. “Depending on the encapsulation strategy, the essential oil can be added to many vehicles, including powders, drinks or pastes. Nonetheless, more work is needed to take these active ingredients into final products.”


Brain scanBrain structure associated with dietary self-control
Some people seem better than others at choosing healthier food options such as broiled salmon and steamed vegetables versus fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Scientists learned that differences in brain structure may play a role in a person’s ability to make healthier food choices.

Through a series of experiments where the test subjects were presented with various food choices under different circumstances and brain scans where taken and analyzed, the researchers noted that there are structural differences in two key regions of the brain that can predict a person’s ability to exercise self-control over dietary choices.

Specifically, the results found that the people who exerted more self-control had more gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This doesn’t mean that if a person’s brain is wired to lead a person to have less self-control, there is nothing can be done about it. The researchers say that regions of the brain can change over time and that further research could investigate methods such as neurofeedback to help people improve their self-control in relation to food choices and eating habits. 

The research findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.