Fiji looks at irradiation to open up fruit and veg exports

Papaya fruit. Picture: ©iStock

Fiji has proposed a project to support irradiation to help increase exports of fruits and vegetables to international markets.

The technical cooperation (TC) project will support food irradiation for the 2018–2019 cycle.

The IAEA, an expert in radiation technologies and a specialist in quality infrastructure and value chains from UNIDO recently assessed its scope and went to fruit and vegetable production areas in Nadi, Sigatoka and Navua.

The next steps include drafting a business plan with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

A feasibility study will determine suitable technology and examine market factors to help Fiji enhance its exports of fruits and vegetables.  

Attaining export quality

Export of fruit and vegetables are hindered by different species of fruit fly, which affect the quality of products such as okra, papaya, breadfruit, mango, eggplant and chili.

To reduce the impact of insect pests, the country has been using High Temperature Forced Air (HTFA).

However, it has only provided a partial solution as it cannot eliminate all types of flies that affect the fruits and vegetables.

The Government of Fiji has opted to introduce irradiation to address the insect pest challenges facing exports.

“In helping Fiji to introduce food irradiation to its economy, the IAEA’s TC programme will contribute to the fulfilment of Fiji’s Trade Policy Framework and thus to the government’s vision of a better Fiji for all, said Faiyas Siddiq Koya, Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Hillary Kumwenda, CEO of the Biosecurity Authority (BAF), who is leading the development of the project, said the HTFA plant can treat up to 3,000 tons of fruits and vegetables per year.

However, Fiji has capacity to significantly increase its exports, if a new technology such as food irradiation is introduced.”

The move should benefit the 250 growers and 15 exporters of fruits and vegetables, who are small farmers with an average of two to four hectares each.

Growers and exporters expressed support for the Government’s initiative to enhance infrastructure for the treatment of fruits and vegetables, said the IAEA.

They said a food irradiation facility will allow expansion of exports to international markets such as Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and the US.

Irradiation for food packaging

Meanwhile, Canada is researching biodegradable food packaging developed using radiation technology.

Scientists at RESALA and CIC are using training with the IAEA to research and develop biodegradable, active packaging materials.

They take raw renewable materials such as starch or proteins, combine them with nanocellulose and irradiate them.

IAEA said this leads to materials with improved durability, biodegradability and better water resistance compared to conventional materials.

Monique Lacroix, director of the Research Laboratories in Sciences Applied to Food (RESALA), said irradiating natural polymers to make new materials is a promising avenue to enhance product safety and reduce food packaging waste.

These polymers are not naturally very sturdy, but when you add nanocellulose and subject it to radiation, the polymers become tough and offer more reliable, sturdy coverage and protection of food,” added the researcher at the Canadian Irradiation Centre (CIC).

“Then when we add specific bioactive materials such as essential oils from thyme, the packaging is considered ‘active’ because these additions actively help to extend the shelf life of food and assure food safety.”

Another IAEA project involving radiation processing began in 2013 and runs until next year.

It includes scientists from Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Italy, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Thailand, Turkey, the UK and the US.

German project

In other news, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Office for Radioactive Protection (BfS) will examine prepared food for radiation caused by radioactive elements such as uranium.

In the seven-year study, foods most frequently eaten by Germans will be considered including cereal products, vegetables and potatoes, dairy products, meat and fish.

Wolfram König, president of the BfS, said: "Citizens therefore depend on verified and reliable data provided by us. The joint study is intended to help better understand, compare and classify possible or negligible risks."

Samples from the BfR-MEAL study will be examined for various natural radionuclides such as uranium, radium-226, radium-228 or lead-210 and the BfS will estimate doses for the population.

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