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How Ethylene Contributes To a Shorter Shelf Life for Food?

by Kim GreeneNovember 18, 2022

Do you know you can accelerate the ripening process of unripe fruits by putting a high-emitting, ethylene-producing food near them? For example, you can put an unripe avocado and an apple in a bag and speed up the ripening process. Despite this quality, the hormone also shortens the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables.  

Moreover, even though ethylene is a valuable initiator of the ripening process, it can also speed up the aging process and reduce the product's quality and shelf life. 

You can use several ethylene scavenger techniques to delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables. These are the methods that remove excess ethylene in the container or bag.  

This article looks at how ethylene can shorten the shelf life of food and the mechanism of controlling this. 

What is ethylene? 

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This is an invisible and odorless phytohormone gas from ripening fruit that plays an important role in ripening produce. The gas also comes from exhaust fumes from internal combustion engines. It can help control different facets of ripening, such as texture change and flavor.  

As the global population continues to grow, some people look for ways to speed up the ripening process. Produce is a highly perishable commodity that makes shelf-life a race against the clock. Self-life, often referred to as the period before food is considered unsuitable for consumption, costs US retailers billion of shillings per year.  

The latest studies on the impact of ethylene on fresh produce show its importance in managing the ripening process and delivering the best eating experiences. If you want to speed up a banana or avocado's ripening process, you can hasten it by placing it close to ethylene. Increased ethylene levels within a bag serve as a stimulant to initiate the ripening process. 

Ethylene is a ripening hormone plant that regulates plant growth, development, and decay. While ethylene can speed up ripening, this idea is only beneficial when used to deal with food storage. Still, ethylene exposure will probably shorten storage life, meaning the costs outweigh the benefits. 

One can also seek reliable distributors like Andi-Co for first-grade domestic and commercial appliances. The distributor’s Liebherr German refrigeration is the perfect choice to prevent food ripening while still maintaining its freshness.  

Why you need to control ethylene? 

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Most fresh produce exporters and producers face the challenge of a short shelf-life because of moisture content in rapid deterioration and decay caused by microbiology. With ethylene control, you can manage ethylene balance and optimize levels, thus reducing waste.  

Apart from speeding the ripening, ethylene also hastens the aging and, eventually, spoilage. Any closed environment to retain the desired temperature enables increased concentration build-up of ethylene. For example, you will shorten the lifespan of your vegetables when you place them in the same refrigerator as ethyl-generating fruits. 

In addition, a high concentration of ethylene causes premature aging. The degree of damage depends on the ethylene concentration, length of exposure, and the product temperature. Since ethylene is synthesized at some level in all plant tissues, it could be a problem in enclosed environments. This is because the low levels could build up to high concentrations that could have an undesirable impact.  

You can also use ethylene-absorbing filters to maintain low ethylene levels. Place these filters over cooling units or add sachets to cartons. These filters can help reduce the ethylene concentration in the enclosed areas. 

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Scientifically, ethylene is shown to cause water loss, increase respiration, and reduce nutrient content. It also accelerates aging and decay, which might lead to off-flavors like bitterness. When you expose the gas to vegetables, it will cause yellowing or spotting. 

However, ethylene can also cause fruit and vegetable rotting. When vegetables get in contact with ethylene, it increases the breakdown of chlorophyll, causing yellowness and reducing storage life. The exposure also increases sensitivity to chilling injury and helps spread decay. In most cases, any slight exposure to a concentration of 0.1ml/l of ethylene is enough to cause undesirable changes in the leafy vegetables. 

How to effectively use ethylene and prevent short lifespan? 

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You can avoid the effects of ethylene on fruits and vegetables by applying several measures. Store ethylene-producing fruits separately from ethylene-sensitive ones like lettuce and cabbage. Also, keep the temperature storage below 5 degrees to reduce the ethylene effects.  

Alternatively, store the fruits and vegetables in an atmosphere with high CO2. Another solution is to ventilate the storage area to purge ethylene air regularly. Proper ventilation can help avoid ethylene accumulation. 

Look for ways to limit ethylene exposure to slow the natural ripening and extend the product's shelf-life. You must know which fruit or vegetable is sensitive to ethylene and which is not. Different vegetables vary in their sensitivity to ethylene, though all the effects can be negative. 

Bottom line 

Exposing vegetables to ethylene can shorten their lifespan and decay. The gaseous hormone is particularly associated with the ripening of fruits like bananas. Vegetables in mixed storage rooms can be exposed to ethylene if the fruit is also present. This is why you need to control the amount of ethylene around sensitive crops like broccoli.  

A primary challenge when purchasing fruit and vegetables is getting fresh goods. Most fruits get a short lifespan on exposure to ethylene, which can be beneficial and harmful depending on how it is used. Uncontrolled ethylene can result in premature ripening, pure texture, and flavor. 

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