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Using NASA Technology to Extend Shelf-Life

Space technology in air purification keeps fruits and vegetables fresh for a longer time.

Temperature, humidity, and air quality are key factors that affect the shelf-life and quality of fresh produce. Undesirable odours, microorganisms (such as bacteria, mould and fungi), and ethylene gas can alter the quality of air, thus shortening shelf-life.

Ethylene gas is a naturally occurring ripening agent in certain fresh produce. It can accumulate in food warehouses and cold stores. Ethylene-sensitive produce such as berries, asparagus, broccoli, and lettuce ripen and deteriorate more quickly when they come into contact with this gas.

This problem is compounded by the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables are fast-moving goods; operators may not find time in between consignments to clear and decontaminate their premises.

To overcome the adverse effects of ethylene accumulation, there are various air purification systems that help to improve the air quality. One such system, called Airocide, adopts a technology developed by NASA to purify air using photocatalytic oxidation and ultraviolet light.

This system was tested by Ban Choon Marketing Pte Ltd (Ban Choon) with support from AVA for its effectiveness in maintaining the quality and extending the shelf-life of strawberries and romaine lettuce. Stored in chillers installed with Airocide, strawberries and romaine lettuce could last three to five days longer. This extended shelf-life translates to cost savings due to the reduction in food spoilage.

Besides adopting advanced air purification technology, the industry should also observe good management practices such as segregating ethylene-sensitive produce from ethylene-producing ones. Having good cold chain standards will also help to ensure that food stays fresh for as long as possible.

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