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Digital twins for selecting the optimal ventilated strawberry packaging based on the unique hygrothermal conditions of a shipment from farm to retailer

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DOI:

https://doi.org/10.31224/2553

Keywords:

multiphysics, cold chain, food loss, mechanistic modeling, condensation, clamshell, ventilated packaging, soft fruit, Botrytis cinerea

Abstract

Berries are one of the most challenging products to preserve after harvest due to their high perishability and short shelf life. Ventilated packaging plays a key role in maintaining fruit quality along the supply chain. However, every supply chain is composed of different unit operations, and every shipment encounters unique hygrothermal conditions such as air temperature fluctuations over time, sub-optimal humidity conditions, and the risk of condensation. Therefore, every supply chain has an optimal packaging that provides the best hygrothermal climate and ventilation to the fruit. Given the vast space of potential supply chain scenarios and packaging configurations, in-silico studies are an attractive alternative for selecting this optimal packaging.

In this study, we developed physics-based digital twins for ventilated packaging of strawberries. We utilized measured air temperature and humidity data from an actual supply chain from the farm to the retailer store. With these digital twins, we mimicked in-silico how the strawberries evolve hygrothermally, physiologically, and microbiologically along the supply chain inside 21 different types of ventilated packaging. We predicted actionable metrics of fruit quality and shelf life for these 21 packages. These metrics include total mass loss, risk of putative mold infection due to Botrytis cinerea, retention time of condensate, and remaining shelf life based on respiration, transpiration, and mold growth. In addition, we analyzed the impact of package-related metrics, such as total vent area, degree of filling, pressure drop across the package, and seven-eighths cooling time, on fruit quality metrics.

With this approach, we pinpointed the critical quality loss points in the supply chain for every package. We identified the package that performs best in balancing the three-way trade-off between the respiration-driven biochemical shelf life, transpiration-driven physical shelf life, and mold growth-driven microbial shelf life of fruit. Our findings showed that the performance of open trays is comparable to ventilated clamshells, as long as a high humidity is maintained along the supply chain. Flow-wrapped packages presented the highest risk of condensation and microbial growth. We also quantified the spatial heterogeneity in fruit quality within the packages and highlighted the most vulnerable locations for quality loss inside each packaging type. Our study presents a novel, holistic approach to select the optimal ventilated packaging of strawberries from farm to retailer based on its measured hygrothermal fingerprint. This approach can help reduce food loss and contribute towards making supply chains smart and efficient.

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Posted

2022-09-20