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PMA gets interactive with emerging technology in the produce industry

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Food Retail

Dr. Bob Whitaker, chief science officer of PMA, moderates the session on Exploring Emerging Technology with Industry Innovators.

In the session titled “Exploring Emerging Technology with Industry Innovators” at PMA’s Fresh Summit this year in New Orleans, Dr. Bob Whitaker started the session fittingly by telling people not to turn their cell phones off and gave a code to make votes on questions he posed throughout the session, which showed in real time.

Like a focus group, the audience was presented with specific new technologies and was asked what they thought of them.

“When it comes to applying new technologies and ideas in the produce industry, staying ahead of competition may feel like a constant battle,” Dr. Whitaker said. “Some companies use technology to generate higher volume, others use it to have more consistent product quality. And still, other companies are looking to apply technology in new ways every day.”

Five companies, representing new technologies in food safety, traceability and biotechnology, presented their innovations, and the panel, which included Dr. Jim Gorny, PMA vice president of food safety and technology; Elliot Grant, founder of Yottomark; Tim Riley, president of Giumara Companies and PMA’s new chairman; and Victor Smith, president and CEO of Fresh Innovations, chimed in with their thoughts.

Neal Carter, president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Foods, an agricultural biotech company that specializes in the creation of tree fruit varieties, and whose flagship product is the non-browning Arctic apple, inspired the question of whether or not biotech and produce can be a fit.

Established in 1996, OSF is a privately owned technology company whose shareholders are agricultural industry individuals. Its platform project, Arctic apples — apples with inhibited polyphenol oxidase levels so it doesn’t go brown, including in slice and juice form — was developed in response to watching apple consumption decline over the past 20 years, Carter said.

“We’d like to see the apple category grow by similar opportunity as cut carrots,” he said, adding that benefits along the value chain include an increase in return, improved quality, new product excitement, decreased shrink, increased eye appeal and ultimate convenience.

The technology conjured the question of whether or not the audience would use a genetically modified commodity in their business if it offered a cost, quality or production advantage. The majority of the audience said yes, with better flavor and quality pushing attendees to consider the option, and those who said they wouldn’t use genetically modified commodities cited consumer perception as the number one reason.

Irradiation techniques in eliminating foodborne pathogens was presented by Harlon Clemmons, president and chief operating officer of Sadex Corp., and spurred the question of whether or not audience members would use irradiation on their products to manage food safety risks if it were available to them. A ratio of two to one said yes, with improved safety being the number one driver of use.

Birko, Luzul Systems and Bayer Crop Science also presented on new technologies, which provoked thought and discussion about new ways to approach sanitation, food safety, traceability and fungicide applications.