- The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has released a mid-season, spring-bearing strawberry variety called "Keepsake." The new fruit is the first to come from an increased effort by the department to develop strawberries with improved shelf life.
- The new strawberry has a low proportion of decayed fruit after two weeks in cold storage, as well as pleasing flavor, color and texture, according to an article published by scientists in the American Society of Horticultural Science.
- "Keepsake" is being distributed by Lassen Canyon Nursery in Redding, California. It is expected to be most adaptable to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. and adjacent areas, the agency said.
Strawberries present several challenges in commercial cultivation because they're relatively delicate when handled, subject to fruit rot and don't last long on the shelf. So a new variety that is firmer, resistant to disease, tastes good and has a longer shelf life is likely to appeal to growers, packers and consumers.
The new strawberry was developed by cross-pollinating other varieties, according to the ARS researchers. While inbreeding often results in strawberries that are not as healthy, the agency said this new variety has "good vigor." The researchers also said the "Keepsake" variety is firm and tough enough for handling, while retaining a good size and color.
After two weeks in cold storage, "Keepsake" had a relatively low proportion of degraded and decayed fruits compared with other strawberry cultivars, the USDA said. The new plants had 29% of fruits degraded after one week, while the "Camarosa" and "Chandler" strawberry cultivars had 93% and 81%, respectively.
Shelf life is important for manufacturers, producers, packers and distributors, as more consumers have expressed an increased interest in fresh produce. According to a recent study from Deloitte, two-thirds of consumers have upped their spending on fresh food in the past year. And when it comes to retailers, spoilage was a challenge for 32% of respondents. More fruits and vegetables with shelf life like "Keepsake" could help retailers avoid spoilage and convince even more consumers to buy fresh foods.
But the USDA isn't alone in developing new varieties and technologies. A sticker from food tech startup StixFresh made from natural ingredients is being applied to avocados, citrus fruits, apples and mangoes to extend their shelf life by up to two weeks. It also helps to retain sweetness, moisture and firmness.
Smart packaging is another approach being used to extend shelf life, limit spoilage, monitor temperature, detect contamination and track products from their origin to points of delivery. Smart packages also may help reduce food waste and enhance sustainability, which are two selling points for today's consumers. Deloitte said in 2018 that smart packaging could reach $39.7 billion this year.
Processing techniques might also extend shelf life. General Mills patented a flour-milling procedure in 2017 to extend the refrigerated shelf life of raw dough by an extra month to 120 days. The process involves heat-treating wheat to deactivate natural enzymes that can cause spoilage.
Along with the "Keepsake" strawberry, recent examples of fruits with extended shelf life include the genetically modified Arctic apple — which was developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits so it doesn't brown — and the Cosmic Crisp apple from Washington State University, a cross between the Honeycrisp and the Enterprise that recently started hitting store shelves.
No doubt more efforts to preserve foods longer on the shelf will be emerging in the future because it means less waste and greater profits along the supply chain. It's also likely the USDA and others will be developing more fresh produce varieties in hopes of extending shelf life and helping growers.