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Alive after six weeks - Crean launches new wrap to keep flowers and fruit fresh

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DPIE92/C 13 April 1992



A new plastic wrap which could keep flowers, fruit and vegetables fresh even on sea voyages of several weeks was officially launched at the Melbourne docks today by Federal Primary Industries Minister, Simon Crean. .

The new wrap - dubbed "active packaging" - means Australian growers might soon be able to send perishable produce to foreign markets by sea instead of by expensive air transport. This new market could be worth $300 million a year to Australia.

Active packaging was developed by CSIRO, shipping company Australian National Line (ANL) and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation (HRDC). The radical plastic wrapping can be tailored to different fruit, flowers or vegetables to make conditions inside the package

ideal for long storage.

Mr Crean said Australian native flowers shipped from Perth to Yokohama in Japan had been still fresh after six weeks, and peaches had been stored for four weeks in a shipping container in Melbourne without deterioration.

As part of the commercial trial the container of peaches was opened last week and the fruit sold on the fresh market in North Melbourne. Normally after four weeks in cold storage peaches lost much of their juiciness, but the "active packaging" peaches opened last Tuesday were still fresh, plump and juicy.

"Essentially the wrapping puts the fruit to sleep," Mr Crean said. "It controls the gases surrounding the fruit so that biological processes are greatly slowed for the duration of the voyage - the ripening process and normal plant respiration are put into suspended animation.

"The aim now is to produce a commercial wrap which will combine four different preservation techniques.

"Firstly the wrapping is a differentially permeable membrane, designed to let through exactly the right amount of carbon dioxide gas and oxygen to keep the fruit dormant.


Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600. Telephone: (0 6)277 7520 Facsimile: (06)273 4120

"Secondly, the plastic is impregnated with an organic chemical which soaks up ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is given off by vegetable matter, and it . hastens the ripening process.

"Thirdly, the wrapping keeps the air around the fruit very humid while at the same time it removes moisture which condenses inside the package and could damage the fruit.

"Fourthly the plastic is impregnated with tiny amounts of a widely accepted fungicide. The fungicide is released very slowly to stop mould growing on the fruit.."

Mr Crean said the combination of the four techniques put the Australian "active packaging" wrapping far in advance of any comparable product. Each horticultural product needed a slightly different wrapping, and research was continuing to precisely tailor the system to different Australian fruits, vegetables and flowers.

"This technology is one way Australia can help overcome the tyranny of distance which separates us from many of our potential markets.

"By making sea transport possible it could open entire new m arkets to Australian producers - markets which previously were accessible only by expensive air transport.

"Active packaging will also help Australia take advantage of its Southern Hemisphere seasons. Our horticultural produce is ripe when the cycle of seasons mean many other countries are not producing.

"Best estim ates suggest the markets which can be potentially opened up by this technology could be worth an extra $300 million a year in exports for Australia.

"It is particularly satisfying th at this technology was developed in Australia by A ustralian researchers and with investment from Australian backers."

Mr Crean made the announcement at a special launch for "active packaging". The ceremony was held at 11am today on board the ANL ship "Searoad Tamar", Webb Dock, Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne.

Also present a t today's launch were ANL managing director John Bicknell, CSIRO chief executive Dr John Stocker and HRDC executive director Dr Chris Rigney, along with other invited guests from the shipping, horticulture and science communities.

Information: Gwyn Bowen, ANL Corporate Affairs (03) 869 5352 David Mussared, CSIRO Public Affairs (06) 276 6478