NCSU Researchers Extend Apple Freshness

Ways to use SmartFresh technology are being developed so small apple growers can benefit.

Published on: Dec 29, 2011

As a result of the efforts of some N.C. State University researchers, your apple may be fresh longer this year. The flowers on your table may stay attractive longer.

SmartFresh, a product developed by N.C. State University researchers and launched commercially in 2002, is also helping farm producers market their products longer, which impacts their bottom lines. The product limits the sensitivity of apples and floral products to ethylene, a naturally occurring chemical that causes living plants to age faster. Apples treated with SmartFresh remain flavorful longer and retain their firmness and acidity better.

To apply SmartFresh, producers store apples in an airtight container into which SmartFresh is introduced. The apples are treated within three to five days of harvest and they remain in the airtight storage for 24 hours.

Researchers note that after being treated with SmartFresh, the apples will retain their quality, even without refrigeration, for an extended period of time.

"This is one of the greatest things to happen to the apple industry in the last 50 years," says Mike Parker, an N.C. State University associate professor and Cooperative Extension tree fruit specialist. Parker and his NCSU colleagues Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler developed SmartFresh.

Although SmartFresh has been marketed to and used by major apple operations since 2002, small apple producers have not had methods for using the product until now.  However, in 2010, researchers worked with several growers to develop a way to apply the product to smaller quantities, from two to 10 bins of apples. Also, a Statesville company, the Blimp Works, has developed a polyurethane chamber that is airtight and can treat from two to 12 bins of apples, allowing small apple growers to benefit from the technology.

Research has shown the product extends the shelf life of some apple varieties by three times, from about two weeks without treatment to approximately six weeks with treatment. Some of the operators who have used the product in the past report good experiences and even better success. Henderson's Best Produce in Henderson County now treats 6,000 bins of apples per season with SmartFresh and people at the company believe it helps keep their apples four times longer than they would last without the product.

N.C. Cooperative Extension will soon release a manual, Maximizing your SmartFresh Investment, that explains the process of using SmartFresh on a small scale. Your local Extension agent will be able to help you locate the manual as soon as it is released and available.