How to keep Fruits and Vegetable fresh, an Innovator explains

By Jayanta Bhattacharya

Fruits and vegetables are essential for a nutritionally balanced diet. Such products are major sources of certain vitamins, calcium, iron, etc. However, these are also among the most perishable agricultural produce. Every year, farmers growing fruits and vegetables face losses primarily due to a lack of proper facilities for storage and transportation.

Farmers and small vendors lose a lot due to postharvest losses. To compensate for such loss, fruits are sold at higher prices considering wastage,” said Dr. Jagadis Gupta Kapuganti, a scientist and innovator.

Kapuganti with team

He led a research team from the New Delhi based National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) in a quest for a solution. The group soon developed a technology that was found to considerably delay the ripening process. It was safe, user-friendly, and cost-effective. Thus, it helped enhance shelf-life of fruits and vegetables through a process that was easy and affordable.

Science needs to serve people and it should solve problems and help in the livelihood of people,” Dr Kapuganti further adds.

The Oxford University alumnus was among those recently awarded India UK Achievers Honors at an event in London. It was organised by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK in partnership with the British Council and the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT).

It celebrated the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and India-UK educational ties. The awards marked the achievements of 75 young Indian students and alumni who have pursued a British programme of study.

Among other awardees were Virendra Sharma, the longest serving parliamentarian in the UK, Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha, Varanasi-based innovator Srijan Jindal, among others. The winners were hosted at the UK parliament, House of commons in London by the Chair of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group on January 25.

Kapuganti is a scientist at DBT-National Institute of Plant Genome Research in Delhi. He has received several awards and fellowships, including a Marie Curie Fellowship, a Max Planck Fellowship, a Ramalingaswami Fellowship, AAB member UK, an Innovative Young Biotechnology Award, and BIRAC-BIG grant.

Speaking about his latest achievement, Kapuganti said, “As a fruit or vegetable ripen more, it becomes softer and is more easily bruised. It is susceptible to diseases or other spoilage causing agents.

Mango, banana, custard apple, fig are among others that ripen faster and bruise easily. After harvesting, it is difficult to store or transport such produce. But the indigenously developed prototype has already been successful in enhancing shelf life of such produce.

Kapuganti with prototype

Many of the chemical constituents naturally present in stored foods spontaneously react, causing loss of colour, flavour, texture, and nutritional value. Also, certain enzyme-activated reactions can occur in foods in storage. This leads to discoloration, softening, etc.

A gaseous plant hormone called Ethylene regulates the ripening process in fruits. Thus, the ripening process can be regulated by regulating the hormone.

Kapuganti started his path to a novel solution for enhancing shelf-life of fruits in 2019 and subsequently established a startup, Fruvetech Pvt Ltd, in 2021. The startup has been supported by Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) under Biotechnology Ignition grant and incubated at FITT, IIT Delhi.

According to the innovator, Nitric Oxide is produced by oxidative and reductive pathways in plants. “We discovered the pathway and conditions which can stimulate nitric oxide production from leaves. We made a formula which can stimulate Nitric Oxide production from leaves,” he added. Fruits treated with the formula were also said to have been more resistant to pathogen attacks.

They soon found that their formula was causing significant delay in the process of ripening. The team was successful in increasing the shelf life of tomato, banana, mango, sapodilla (chikoo), etc.

His team then developed a prototype comprising two chambers. One smaller chamber is there for housing the formula inducing Nitrous Oxide from edible leaves. The other chamber is used for the produce to be treated. The temperature is maintained between 25-27 deg C which is around room temperature.

We found our formula could increase shelf life in tomatoes up to 10 days, custard apple by 3-4 days, banana and mango to seven, and pineapple by 10 days,” said Kapuganti. He also claimed that the method was successfully tested on button mushroom and broccoli as well.

Kapuganti claimed that the amount of Nitrous Oxide produced during the treatment is in “the one part per billion (PPB) range” and thus, not harmful.

We have developed prototypes made of poly-acrylic, also wood; and now, from plastic waste. For operating in locations where there are problems with electric supply, we have containers with solar panels too,” he added.

Refrigeration is the usual option when transporting perishable produce. But many farmers in India lack access to such preservation methods. They face post-harvest spoilage and wastage of their crops.

Moreover, refrigeration is not suitable for storage of certain fruits. Alternative methods such as use of chemicals to treat fruits have lots of side effects on the health of human beings.

Our formula is organic. With this, fruits and vegetables stay fresh, retain the texture, and are less prone to fungal infection. We found that iron and vitamin content too increased in the produce,” according to the scientist, nutritional value is also enhanced along with shelf life.

And operation cost is “very low”. The investment is in the container. The cost for the formula comes to around Re.1 per kg of fruits.

With a grant from Sree Padmavathi Venkateshwara foundation, together with assistance from all India Guava grower association, he led his team in conducting farmer awareness programmes and frontline demonstrations.

Saying that there is a huge market for the product, the innovator counted the wide range of applications among farmers, general consumers, fruit growers, fruit industries, fruit import, transport companies, etc.