I ended the second instalment of this series with the remark that the packaging field of fresh produce is lacking any autonomization development or design. Actually that’s not surprising as fresh produce is a very difficult product to bring under the regime of autonomization. As a matter of fact we only know the ingredients for a fresh produce salad by its original non-processed status or by its pre-cut and pre-packaged status.
Fuelled by the growing consumers’ interest in natural products, convenience, and nutrition, the industry introduced the fresh pre-packaged, pre-cut salads in the market. Since fresh-cut produce is a non-processed, living product, preserving freshness and minimizing quality degradation associated with temperature challenges during transit is crucial.
To tackle this problem fresh-cut produce is packaged in Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), a technology whereby the atmosphere within the package is altered with the objective to extend the shelf life of perishable foods, while at the same time the quality of the product is (more or less) maintained.
Deteriorative reactions of food can be of biochemical, physiological, physical and microbiological origin. In MAP systems O2 concentration is usually kept at low levels in order to reduce the rate of oxygen to avoid undesirable (oxidative) reactions and to reduce the growth of aerobic microorganisms.
However MAP of fresh fruits and vegetables is a more laborious issue and in contrast to the above O2 has to enter and CO2 to exit as fresh-cut produces need to “breathe” to stay fresh. The reason is that horticultural produces are living organisms and consequently continue to respire even after harvest in order to produce energy for vital biological reactions. As a result when fresh fruits and vegetables are put in packs they naturally modify surrounding atmosphere by consuming O2 and producing CO2 (passive MAP). MAP slows the ongoing life processes not by changing the product but by adjusting its environment. Under the influence of MAP, the product is held in a state similar to that of animal hibernation, during which deterioration is effectively stopped.
See also my article: Passive, Active And Dynamic Modified Atmosphere Packaging
But the situation with fresh-cut, pre-packaged salad ingredients is much more complicated. Food scientists treat the cutting, slicing, and chopping of fresh vegetables as procedures that wound the cells of the plants and trigger injury-based responses by the plant cells. As a general rule, researchers treat vegetable chopping as a form of stress that is placed on the vegetables, similar to other forms of stress like extreme heat, extreme cold, dehydration, or other physical conditions.
Risk of discoloration, flavour loss, texture loss, dehydration, and nutrient loss generally increases as the cut vegetable pieces get smaller and smaller. In other words, shredded lettuce or shredded cabbage generally carry more risk in the above areas than coarsely chopped lettuce or coarsely chopped cabbage. In the commercial ready-to-eat fresh vegetable industry, vegetable shredding typically means a shorter shelf life as well as a loss of taste and texture.
As a general rule, the more finely you shred or chop your fresh vegetables, the more quickly they should be eaten. For example, shredding lettuce within one hour of serving a salad increases the potential health benefits in comparison to industrially pre-packaged lettuce shredded hours and hours before the salad is consumed.
The proper answer to this food quality and packaging problem is to integrate the cutting mechanism for fresh produce in the packaging itself, allowing the consumer to benefit fully of the nutritional characteristics of the fresh produce by cutting just minutes before consumption. It’s clear that this only can be accomplished by following the lines of autonomization.
And that’s exactly what the Israeli Michael Gershman, Ph.D. did. It took him some years to come up with an exceptional answer to this problem.
His design relates to a method for preparing a salad from packaged fresh vegetables. The product is a ready-to-made disposable vegetable or fruit salad packaging, in which the vegetables or fruits are stored in a whole mode after washing. Cutting/slicing is performed by the consumer, just before consumption using a cutter embedded in the packaging.
The problem has been stated: on the one hand, “the device” should provide effective, quality, simple, safely and intuitive cutting; and on the other hand, it should be just a packaging that looks like packaging, costs like packaging, being manufactured using packaging technology.
In order to achieve this goal, dozens schemes and models have been tried.
The first developed product is a kit based on cucumbers and/or cherry tomatoes. The packaging consists just of a tray, an insert and a plastic knife. Special design of these components allows easy and clean cutting for just several seconds.
As one can see this is almost a merely carton box, but acts as a “rather sophisticated device”. It is simple, technological, but user-friendly and effective – cuts quickly and purely.
For this purpose new method of cherry tomatoes halving was developed. There is known method of such mass halving (see for instance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9zyosvYNl0 ). But such a method requires a knife with long sharp steel blade therefore it isn’t applicable to the case of disposable packaging.
The tray can be made from any thermo-formable material. The only consideration here is cost.
The best option is pulp thermoforming (a recently developed process that provides thin-walled great looking eco-friendly tableware and packaging). The insert is dye-cut thin carton. The knife can be injection molded of a recyclable plastic. (The package is covered by thin protective film, not shown in the photos).
This makes the whole package a disposable package.
The only obvious limitation of this design is that it implies dealing almost exclusively with cucumbers and/or cherry tomatoes. But the developers believe there is rather big market of such products, where the basis is fresh cut cucumbers and/or tomatoes and diversity is achieved by addition of baby leaves, dressings, cheese, protein, etc.
Since this Fresh Produce Cutter is not just a new packaging, but a significant step into the realm of autonomization of packaging, actually new product, it is very important for the inventor to hear the “voice of potential customers”. In the course of this article, the inventor and I, as the author of this article, like to hear the opinion of my readers. Please take a minute and put your (positive or negative) opinion in the comments section. It will be highly appreciated whatever you have to say.
You can contact the inventor via Mgershman51@gmail.com