Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Fruit Production
Extending the shelf life of Ontario berries


May 3, 2010
By Fruit & Vegetable

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Fresh Ontario berries are very popular with consumers but also very perishable.

Fresh Ontario berries are very popular with consumers but also very perishable.

Now, new research by the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association (OBGA) shows that a different on-farm storage method can extend the shelf life of strawberries and raspberries, allowing consumers to enjoy fresher fruit longer.

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“Farmers are picking berries six or seven days a week in season, but it can be hard to match picking to the timing demands of retailers who want fresh berries only at certain times,” says Kevin Schooley, executive secretary of the OBGA. “For growers, this new storage method is a way to better match up the demands of their customers with availability.”

Modified atmosphere storage means adjusting the gases in berry storages to reduce oxygen and increase carbon dioxide levels. The berries are ripe when they are harvested, but the change in atmosphere will slow down the further ripening and decomposition process in a natural way.

Storage and quality issues have been big challenges for Ontario berries. OBGA hopes that lengthening the shelf life of berries while maintaining their quality will give buyers greater confidence in Ontario-grown fruit and grow market opportunities for Ontario farmers. The modified atmosphere storage technology can be used easily on farms with large storage facilities, but can also be adapted for smaller farms to fit over individual pallets of picked berries that are waiting to go to market.

“The normal shelf life of picked, ripe berries is about three days but with the new modified atmosphere technology, you can add at least three to four days,” says Schooley.

The project was supported by $10,872 of funding from the Ontario Research and Development (ORD) program, a $2.5 million initiative established in January 2008 by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The goal of the two-year provincial program, delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council, is to promote the long-term viability and competitiveness of Ontario agriculture by investing in research and development projects.

“This program helps us provide support to important innovations like this project by the Ontario berry growers,” says Jim Rickard, chair of the Agricultural Adaptation Council. “Not only can we help improve the long-term sustainability of our agricultural sector but it also lets us help provide our consumers with high quality, locally grown food products.”