A study into how to make holes could save shoppers millions of pounds in wasted food.
After two years of intensive research a team of scientists has worked out precisely how large each hole in food packaging should be - and exactly where to place them - to make fresh produce last longer.
The findings could have a dramatic effect across the entire fresh fruit and veg. industry, by extending the stay-fresh period of some products for up to two days.
The Co-operative Food’s technical expert, Iain Ferguson, said: “Thanks to this study on holes, British growers will be able to make the most of their crops, and customers will be able to keep them fresher for longer.
“This is a major breakthrough in our continuing search to provide our customers with extra value, which is why we’re calling it the Holey Grail.
“Our new-style holes will save customers money – a great advantage when money is tight.”
The size and distribution of holes in food packaging affects the amount of moisture lost by all fruit and vegetables from the moment they are packed.
Too much moisture loss means the fresh produce will dry out quickly, losing taste and quality, yet too much moisture left in the pack will create condensation, encouraging the growth of damaging mould.
During the study, scientists for The Co-operative’s packaging supplier, Paragon, examined how hole size affects air velocity, diffusion, and moisture transfer.
Sophisticated mathematical formulae were used to determine the optimum size of each hole and to identify where each hole should be placed according to the size of each pack.
And complex hole theory models were used to match hole distribution to the pattern of moisture loss, which varies across every range of fruit and veg.
Computer-guided laser etching machines were then used to punch tiny holes into the packaging in precisely the right pattern – each of which is product specific.
Packs of large vine tomatoes (400g) will be the first Co-operative product to use the new market-leading packaging technology, which will be rolled out to stores from next month.
Around 55,000 tonnes of tomatoes, costing almost £100m, are thrown away every year from UK homes because they haven’t been used in time*.
According to WRAP, each year we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes in the UK, more than half of which is food and drink we could have eaten. Wasting this food costs the average household £480 a year, rising to £680 for a family with children - the equivalent of around £50 a month.
Richard Swannell, Director of Design and Waste Prevention at WRAP said: “WRAP welcomes this innovation by The Co-operative Food. Food waste is a serious issue, and as our research shows packaging can have a significant role to play in helping reduce unnecessary food waste.”
The Co-operative’s Iain Ferguson said: “This study has shown us that there’s a whole lot more to making holes than anyone realised.
“Taking the time to make the right size of hole in the right place will ensure that pre-packed fruit and veg. bought by our customers will last for as long as possible.
“Extending the shelf life of each product will also enable every aspect of our supply chain, from grower to store, work more efficiently, reducing considerably the amount of fresh produce that is ruined through spoilage.
“This may be the first time that anyone has ever developed a branch of science devoted to making holes, but the findings will help customers to avoid burning a hole in their pocket.”
* Figures from WRAP, which is a not-for-profit company established in 2000. WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.