Developed by packaging company It’s Fresh, the small squares of paper absorb ethylene—the ripening hormone in fruit—to slow down the maturation process and keep produce fresh for longer.
You began the week with every intention of eating your five-a-day, and optimistically filled the kitchen fruit bowl with apples, bananas, and oranges. But it's Wednesday and your healthy eating drive has already taken a nosedive. The apples are squishy, the bananas are looking brown, and that orange probably won't last another day.
But what if a filter paper could make the contents of your fruit bowl and salad drawer stay fresh for another couple of days? Or at least until you decide to sate your 3 PM hunger cravings with a banana, rather than the altogether more tempting chocolate digestive.
For several years, It's Fresh!, a food freshness technology company with offices in the UK and US, has been developing special filter papers that slow down the ripening process of fruit and vegetables when inserted into packaging.
Currently, the papers are used by fruit and vegetable growers and suppliers to keep produce fresh during transport and on supermarket shelves, but last month, London restaurant Canteen started trialling the papers in their kitchen. The experiment was a success, as chefs reported throwing away far less gone-off produce.
MUNCHIES reached out to Simon Lee, co-founder of It's Fresh!, to find out how the filter papers work and their potential to combat food waste in the restaurant industry.
MUNCHIES: Hi Simon, how do the It's Fresh filter papers work? Simon Lee: They create a protective atmosphere around the fruit by absorbing ethylene (the ripening hormone in fruit and veg), slowing down the whole process of maturation.
Our filters are being used at the point of harvest, when produce is being transported, and when it's then repackaged into smaller packs for retail.
Say, for example, I've bought a pear and taken it home. How much longer will it keep if it's been packaged in the filter papers? It depends on the fruit and the environment in which the fruit is kept but usually for up to four days, rather than around two.
In the old days, you'd buy a pear or an avocado and put it in your fruit bowl for a few days to ripen. If you didn't catch it at the right time, it would be overripe.
Nowadays, you can go into shops and buy fruit that's specially ripened to a certain pressure so it's ready to eat straight away. But if you decide that you don't want to eat it on that day, the next day it might have gone soft or be overripe. But what our technology does is allow the ready to eat fruit to still be good for another two to four days.
Doesn't putting fruit and veg in fridges keep it fresher for longer? Refrigeration does allows you to cool the fruit, slow down its respiration, and transport it all over the world.
But, even with refrigeration, there's still a difficulty of getting produce from A to B and maintaining its quality. You need something that farmers and growers can use the minute fruit is harvested and could stay with the produce all the way through the supply chain to when it's taken home by a customer.
The filter papers have recently started to be used in the kitchens of Canteen in London. Do you think they could be used by restaurants everywhere? Food service is an area that we intend to go into. The guy who runs Canteen had seen our filters at the supermarket and noticed the marked difference in what was happening with his fruit when he bought it. At the restaurant, they buy fruit and veg in bulk, and using the filters gives them more time to use the produce and keep the quality as high as possible.
Will the filter papers ever be available to use in the home to stop people wasting food because it goes off too quickly? Perhaps fruit bowls lined with filter papers? There's definitely an opportunity for at-home storage using filter papers, but they probably wouldn't be in the same format that the filters are now because they've been built for the supply chain and are one-time use only. My guess is that we'll have a consumer product that might look different and be more user-friendly.
Anything that can help to extend the quality and freshness of food, and that helps educate people—how to store produce, how to get the best out of it, and the best time to eat it—is going to mean that you make a reduction in food waste.
Thanks for talking with me, Simon.