Optimizing ventilated packaging design for strawberries : Assessing the impact on fruit quality from farm to retailer using physics-based modeling

Tobler, Elisabeth; Shrivastava, Chandrima; Turan, Deniz; da Silva, Fátima Pereira; Verreydt, Celine; Lukasse, Leo; Defraeye, Thijs


Amongst fruits and vegetables, strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) are one of the most perishable products. Consequently, it is challenging to maintain their quality until they reach the consumer. Therefore, keeping optimal hygrothermal conditions around the berries from farm to the consumer is crucial to preserving them and avoiding food loss. Using ventilated packaging design is an established way to address this technological, economic, and environmental problem. Until now, strawberry packaging is often designed using a trial-and-error approach, and a multitude of packaging designs exist. Ideally, the packaging should be designed in such a way that it provides the best preservation of the fruit all the way from farm to retailer. This is challenging since the hygrothermal conditions change significantly along the supply chain. In this study, we use physics-based modeling to evaluate new strawberry packaging designs in regard to cooling performance, risk of condensation, mass loss, and respiration-driven shelf life of the fruit and assess their performance along the whole post-harvest export supply chain from Spain to Switzerland. Twelve packaging designs for strawberries with existing and newly-designed vent hole configurations were investigated. Simulations quantified how the berries physiologically and hygrothermally evolve inside these packages along the whole post-harvest supply chain. Implementing appropriate ventilation in open-and top-sealed trays for strawberries can help to minimize losses along the post-harvest supply chain. As commonly known, strawberries cool significantly faster in better-ventilated trays than in unventilated trays, and condensation-based time of wetness could be reduced by 45% by adding additional ventilation holes in a top-sealed tray. The height of the secondary packaging, the total opening area (TOA), the size, and the placement of the vents have a substantial influence on the performance of the packaging. We recommend a TOA between 5.5% and 7% and a diameter of the vents between 5 and 12 mm. Also, they should be evenly distributed. However, there is always a trade-off in packaging design: a reduced risk of condensation comes along with a higher mass loss of the strawberries. Strawberry packaging models enabled a unique insight into the evolution of the fruits along the supply chain and visualized the spatial distribution of condensation and mass loss inside the package.