A chance discovery has resulted in a scientific breakthrough that an inventor believes could radically reduce the alarming amount of fruit and vegetables going to waste across the world.
Researcher Gustavo Cerqueira has estimated an average household could save up to $1,000 a year and farmers, exporters, distributors and restaurants could prevent millions of dollars of produce from rotting before it could be used.
“It was a bit by accident,” Dr Cerqueira said.
“We came across a fox nest and instead of just culling animals as a result of pest management, we decided to collect samples from their bodies and use a screening method called antimicrobial production.
Discovery outfoxing decay
Dr Cerqueira said the antimicrobial found in the fox produced a beneficial biofilm of good bacteria that protected produce against external bacterial and fungal attack.
Tests in the laboratory involved dipping and spraying avocados, bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce and other produce in the organic Apical Foodie biopreservative.
“We’ve found out that when we use these microorganisms in a very specific formulation that we developed, we have been getting between two weeks to 45 days of produce longevity or shelf life extension,” Dr Cerqueira said.
But is it safe?
Dr Cerqueira said experiments on rats proved the biopreservative was safe in animals and his team went further to test the product on themselves.
“We did this to ourselves to prove that point, but also to increase the levels of safety, thinking about the population out there as well.”
Dr Cerqueira said Apical Foodie was already available to use pre-harvest, and an agronomist would soon begin field trials using sprinklers to apply it to plants.
A spokesperson for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said Apical Foodie did not require registration because it did not meet the definition of an agricultural product under the Agvet Code.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand is currently working with the company to understand more about the product and whether an application was needed to use it on fruit and vegetables that had already been picked.
Dr Cerqueira was confident about the safety of the biopreservative.
“It does not cause harm to plants or animals and it does not alter the effect or function of other products out there,” he said.
“It’s totally beneficial and it’s positive for agriculture as well.”
Food waste in the firing line
Dr Cerqueira said the biopreservative would cost 7–9 cents per 250 grams of produce, so it was low cost.
“In terms of return we are looking at potentially bringing back between 30 and 50 per cent revenue increase among farmers, growers, exporters, distributors, those with commercial kitchens,” he said.
The start-up company has put nature under the microscope to discover microorganisms and bacteria that Dr Cerqueira believed could transform medical science, food production and preservation.
“In the world right now we’re looking at one-third of produce going into the bins, but at the same time the methods that we have been using for many, many years to harvest, preserve, export, transport and store food are not up to standard,” he said.
“After doing a lot of research we came to conclusion that we can offer something better that is totally organic, natural.”