USDA Fresh Fruit Preservative Has Healthy Impact on Fast-Food Industry

USDA Fresh Fruit Preservative Has Healthy Impact on Fast-Food Industry

When it comes to selling fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in the fast food industry, the option has not been readily available due to concerns with microbial safety and surface browning. Over the years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been helping various food-sector industries offer healthier and more diverse food options to consumers. From discovering treatments to prevent fruit rot and disease to improving flavor and sustainability in a variety of cultivators, USDA research has proven to benefit farmers, businesses, and consumers nationwide.

In 1995, the USDA entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Mantrose-Haeuser Company, Inc., to develop a coating that prevents fresh-cut fruits and vegetables from browning. The CRADA resulted in a co-owned and patented technology that maintains the quality and lengthens the shelf-life of fresh-cut produce. Under the CRADA, the USDA and Mantrose-Haeuser conducted a study that examined how fresh-cut apple slices were affected by a treatment of ionizing radiation and calcium ascorbate. The study also investigated the treatment’s effects on acidity, firmness, color, vitamin C content, and the bacteria population of apple slices in modified atmosphere packaging.

Apple slices were dipped in a calcium ascorbate solution followed by exposure to low-dose gamma radiation. Researchers found that this combination allowed apples rich in calcium and vitamin C to maintain their texture, color and taste, and also made them microbiologically safe for consumption. The results of the study were extremely useful to the fresh-cut fruit industry’s aim to improve food safety and the quality of cut apples.

In 1999, the USDA and Mantrose-Haeuser were issued a patent for “Methods of preserving fresh fruit and product thereof” for their research. Mantrose-Haeuser then exclusively licensed the technology and developed a treatment product called NatureSeal®.

NatureSeal® uses a special blend of vitamin salts and minerals to extend sliced fruit’s shelf life for up to 21 days under refrigeration without any detectable changes in quality or flavor. Fresh-cut apple and pear slices are now being sold nationwide thanks to this technology. This is the first available commercial product of its kind with no bad aftertaste or residue. Sliced apples coated with NatureSeal® are now being served in school lunch programs.

While initially developed for sliced apples and pears, the technology has since been extended to include sliced avocados, celery, potatoes, carrots, and onions. NatureSeal®’s preservative ability increased the booming demand for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, and benefits both producers and consumers.

The first commercial sale of NatureSeal® occurred in 2000 and increased in 2002 when the company penetrated a major foreign market and U.S. companies more readily accepted it as a product-life extender.

In 2004, NatureSeal® was used in Apple Dippers™ at McDonald’s—a fast-food chain known for hamburgers that serves an estimated 68 million customers per day in the United States.

Since 2004, roughly 2 billion packages of apple slices have been served with kids’ meals.

For more information about the USDA study “Quality of Fresh-Cut Apple Slices as Affected By Ionizing Radiation and Calcium Ascorbate Treatment,” which was featured in the March 2005 edition of Journal of Food Science, visit https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publication/?seqNo115=164650.