Skip to Content
Biotechnology

A “second skin” for fruit and veg could make them last twice as long

We throw away a third of all our fruit and vegetables. California-based firm Apeel wants to change that with a natural coating that keeps produce fresher for longer.
February 14, 2019
Ms. Tech | Apeel

About one third of all the food we produce every year never makes it to the dinner table. That’s about 1.3 billion tons of produce in the trash, worth about $1 trillion.

One major reason is our tendency to throw away fruit and vegetables that look past their best. California-based company Apeel thinks it has a fix: an edible, flavorless coating that can make them last two or three times as long.

The thin coating is made from the pulp, peels, and seeds of other fruit and vegetables. These are turned into powder, which gets mixed with water and then applied to produce by spraying, dipping, or brushing. It's then left to dry. This “second skin” acts like a barrier, slowing down loss of water and exposure to air, the main factors that lead to food spoiling. A lemon that might stay fresh for one month could stay fresh for two or more once it’s been treated with Apeel. And because it’s just made from fruits and other plants, it’s also edible. 

In the US, Apeel has already treated 8 million avocados, according to founder and CEO James Rogers. In pilots, retailers and suppliers managed to cut food waste by more than 50% thanks to the coating, the company claims. It has already raised $110 million from investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is now about to launch in Europe.

“We haven’t needed to educate the retailers about it [food waste]—they’ve known about it for well over a decade,” Rogers says. Apeel-treated avocados are due to arrive in some stores in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway by mid-year, subject to approval from the European Union, he says. Other fruits are likely to come soon, although Apeel would not be drawn on which ones or when.

The biggest challenge for Apeel may be getting producers, retailers, and consumers to accept eating something that has been treated in this way, predicts Danielle Nierenberg, president of the think tank Food Tank. Consumers can be fussy when it comes to innovations related to food—such as genetic modification, for example. But if this hurdle can be overcome, she thinks, Apeel will help consumers feel more confident about buying fruits and vegetables, knowing they are less likely to go to waste. “It stops the problem from happening in the first place,” she says.

Rogers is confident that the coating’s familiar ingredients will help to convince people. Produce treated with it will declare so on the packaging. “We’re working with the natural world, not against it,” he says.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

The feud between a weed influencer and scientist over puking stoners

A scientist went looking for genes that cause cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. But a public spat with a cannabis influencer who suffers from the disease may have derailed his research.

Edits to a cholesterol gene could stop the biggest killer on earth

In a first, a patient in New Zealand has undergone gene-editing to lower their cholesterol. It could be the beginning of new era in disease prevention.

Monkeypox is in Bay Area wastewater

It showed up in Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, which is the only group publishing data on monkeypox in US wastewater.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.