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Investigators at the post-harvest laboratory at the Department of Fruticulture and Enology of UC’s Agronomy Faculty are largely responsible for research leading to the commercial implementation of a technique that has completely changed fruit exports in Chile: the use of modified atmosphere packaging, a technology that uses the fruit’s own respiration to lower oxygen and raise carbon dioxide concentrations, slowing the fruit’s metabolism and therefore many causes of deterioration, such as softening, darkening, and pathogen development.

“Our work focused mainly on cherries, but also included kiwis and blueberries. It’s been super effective in extending the conservation time with minimal intervention in the fruit,” explains the Ph.D. in Agricultural Sciences, Juan Pablo Zoffoli, who has spent his career researching fresh fruit conservation. That work has enabled several exporters to increase their productivity by implementing this new technology when shipping their fruit to distant markets on journeys that can take up to 45 days. 

Zoffoli and his team of investigators are also working from a basic science perspective to attempt to identify the origin of certain physiological disorders that alter and compromise the conservation of fruit, principally through variables associated with fruit metabolism. He focuses on analyzing surface scalding, which refers to the appearance of areas of oxidation on the skin of the fruit and is quite common in apples and pears.
Dealing with fruit scald is one of the central difficulties faced by apple producers around the world. “To address this problem, we’ve developed a technique that we apply to organic apples, without having to add products post-harvest. We’re basically trying to understand the relationship with oxygen and prevent these spots from appearing on the skin,” Zoffoli comments. The presence of these spots can lead to international shipments being rejected, and although in the past the treatment was to apply antioxidants, that has become a real challenge for the industry, as the European market banned Diphenylamine (DPA), a synthetic antioxidant that was often very effective in controlling this problem. The new technique has also been shown effective in reducing other disorders, such as “corking”, which occurs during storage of apples, explains the academic.

In parallel with his work to strengthen the storage capacity of fruit, Zoffoli is also striving to increase resistance to physiological disorders such as internal browning due to prolonged storage times. He has developed practices and non-destructive protocols that can be applied at an early stage to ascertain the fruit’s degree of risk of developing a particular disorder.


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