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Using light to determine the shelf life potential of leafy vegetables

Client: VEGPRO

IRDA "Research and Development Institute for the Agri-Environment" is an agroenvironmental research and development institute dedicated to supporting the development of sustainable farming in Quebec through innovation and partnerships. In recent years, the big grocery chains have increasingly required agricultural producers to guarantee the shelf life of their products. This prompted INO and IRDA to work together to develop a solution for the leafy vegetable supply chain. Given the wide range of vegetable life cycles, agricultural producers sometimes have a hard time guaranteeing shelf life, which can lead to losses and unhappy customers.

Faced with this challenge, Vegpro expressed interest in working with INO and IRDA to find a solution. Founded in 1998, Vegpro is now the largest producer of fresh vegetables in Canada. Its subsidiary Vert Nature, which specializes in baby lettuce, farms 5,800 acres in Quebec and Florida and more than 700 acres in British Columbia to supply markets year round. The company’s main priorities are to improve marketing methods and reduce losses. For Vegpro, incorporating a solution into its operations for determining shelf life is an opportunity to maximize the value of its crops. Recently, INO and IRDA joined forces to identify a technology that could guarantee 12-day shelf life for Vegpro’s ready-to-eat products.

Certain intrinsic parameters of leafy vegetables can by measured by hyperspectral imaging, a non-destructive and contact-free testing method that can be done in real time. INO used its own hyperspectral imaging station and, in collaboration with IRDA researchers, created a database of spinach leaf samples. This data allowed our artificial intelligence experts to develop algorithms to evaluate the life expectancy of the leafy greens. This led to a preliminary method for determining spinach shelf life for up to 12 days after packaging, give or take 1.2 days.

The next step in the study will be to enrich the spectral database to improve measurement accuracy. Eventually, the process could also be used with plants other than spinach, such as arugula, kale, or lettuce.

“ Working with INO gave us access to the additional cutting edge expertise IRDA needed to develop hyperspectral imaging applications in agrifood. ”

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