The science behind greenhouse growing

Food science is the study of the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food, the causes of food deterioration, and how best to get your produce from farm to table as fresh as possible. Food scientists and technologists are experts in chemistry, engineering, microbiology, and nutrition using these disciplines to study food in order to help improve the safety and availability of food.

"The goal of food science is to produce, preserve, and ship more produce each year safely while using fewer resources," says the team with Nature Fresh Farms. In this article, Nature Fresh farms in Canada explains the methods they use each day to ensure their food is grown to the highest standard.

Discovering flavor 
"We are very selective about what varieties of produce we put our name on. This is why, before we consider introducing a new product, we put our fruits and vegetables through research and development to allow us to listen and learn what they need."

"Produce tastes best when fresh, and that is why, before conducting flavor trials of our new products, we must ensure a crop can make the journey from the farm to the store at its ripest.

"We are constantly exploring innovative ways to ensure your produce is served as fresh as the day it was picked. Many elements can impact the longevity and freshness of a crop, from how the plant is grown to the way it is packaged and shipped. The process of determining how fresh a new variety will stay overtime is called shelf-life testing.

"During this period, our research team will store a fully-grown product away for 7-10 days. After this period, they conduct a series of tests to see if the vegetable is breaking down. In tomatoes, for instance, we will look for abnormalities such as cracks, shapes, colors, and other factors. Once this testing is done, the data is compiled and reviewed to either eliminate a potential variety or move it along for more testing. Only when the veggies have met our requirements for shelf life will they move on to the most fun part of the process: taste testing.

"Internal taste testing at Nature Fresh Farms is as scientific as it is delicious. These studies are conducted to prevent bias towards a certain variety so that the flavor, texture, and firmness of a new product will prevail. Seated in a red room to obscure color, our taste testers are given a series of items to decide which they like best."

Temperature is an important element of the food science process because it affects the lifespan of a product. "Just as we control the environment in the greenhouse to achieve the warm conditions to help the plants grow, we must also create the ideal conditions to remove that heat and allow the products to be properly stored. If we don’t cool our products down, we will reduce their shelf-life.

"By reducing the temperature of the product before packaging, we can reduce what is called respiration. Respiration is the process of dehydration within the fruit, making it the key to fruit ripening and aging. By reducing the temperature under the right conditions, we can slow respiration and prolong the shelf-life of a plant."

Stored better to taste better
"To get plants down to the optimal temperature for shipping and storage, we start by introducing it into our storage cooler equipped with high-velocity fans to increase airflow, bringing the fruit temperature down. Introducing cold air is not enough, however, as cold air alone is dehydrating to produce. To prevent respiration, we add humidity in the coolers using giant misters to prevent the fruits from shriveling and increasing their shelf life. Once the plants are introduced into the cold storage of our distribution center they are monitored through sensors until they reach the optimal temperature for shipping. Once they are ready to be shipped, they are loaded onto cold trucks that keep them fresh until they arrive in the store."

"Once a new offering has been shelf-life tested and approved for flavor through our taste-testing process, we must consider how to get it to your local store as fresh as possible.

"The goal of packaging a product is to prolong shelf life to reduce food waste and enhance the flavor experience. During the development of a new package, a key factor we must consider is airflow. Each product requires varying degrees of ventilation to prevent humidity within the package that causes them to spoil. Tomato-on-the-Vine is a great example as it requires more ventilation than a cherry tomato or beefsteak tomato.

"Once the airflow required in the packaging is determined, we create a mock-up to see how effective it is. For new offerings, we put the product in the prototype and then do additional shelf-life testing to see how the product will perform once shipped and in stores.

"To grow in a greenhouse requires the ability to control the environment using the latest food technology. Closed-loop irrigation, advances in lighting, and our climate control system are all examples of developments that are transforming our growing practices and helping to feed the growing global population."

For more information:
Nature Fresh Farms
Tel: +1 (519) 326-1111  

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