A New Food Start-Up is Dramatically Expanding the Lifespan of Produce

Apeel Sciences is using natural agricultural byproducts to keep fresh fruit better for longer

Imagine if a strawberry, fully ripened on the vine in California, juicy to the point of bursting, could arrive in New York days later, still bright red and plump without a trace of mold. A new company in California is looking to make that dream a reality.

As reported by the New York Times, Apeel Sciences has been working on an edible solution to food waste and the short life span of produce. By using organic material, including peels, leftover grape skins from wine production, stems, and other parts of the produce that are typically left behind after harvest, Apeel has created an invisible barrier against the bacteria that leads to food rot. Apeel founder and CEO James Rogers tells SAVEUR that Apeel products "can be created from any kind of natural food source." He explains that these solutions, branded under the names Invisipeel and Edipeel, actually "create a physical barrier which protects produce from abiotic stressors that cause it to spoil, like water loss, oxidation as well as biotic factors, like bacteria and fungus."

Traditional methods of preservation include wax, pesticides, and gas, but all of these solutions require that the produce be harvested before its peak ripeness. By replacing these methods with organic matter, the produce industry itself could be entirely transformed: "[Apeel] offers the opportunity to relax the intrinsic perishability constraints which currently limit every type of produce on this planet," Rogers says. Edipeel—which is used on produce post-harvest, while Invisipeel is used preharvest on crops—would allow growers and shippers to bring higher quality, better-tasting produce to consumers around the world. For example, the production of blueberries, as the Times points out, currently takes 30 days to get from Chile to the market in the United States, meaning they must be picked far before they're ready, packed into a heavily refrigerated vehicle to ripen on the way to their destination. Taste is sacrificed for the possibility of wide distribution—and a large portion of that transported produce will rot before it ever reaches the shelves.

Some Apeel products have already been used on the cassava root in Africa. The root—which is a major source of calories in the African diet—degenerates quickly once pulled from the ground; if it is not eaten within 24 to 48 hours, most of it goes to waste, meaning farmers are not able to sell their product commercially. In 2012, Rogers was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation award of $100,000 in the interest of using Apeel’s technology to help African farmers with this problem.

Edipeel increased the shelf life of the cassava root by more than double which could, as a result, increase the market value of cassava by $1 billion, according to Apeel. By finding solutions to the problem of perishability, Apeel hopes to “improve genetic diversity around the globe.” An ambitious goal, but a worthy one that this world needs right now.