(Sept. 28) Extending shelf life can mean different things to different people — depending on what fruit or vegetable you’re talking about, said Devon Zagory, senior vice president for food safety and quality programs for Davis Fresh Technologies, a Davis, Calif.-based consulting firm.

If a particular commodity loses its texture, for instance, that might qualify as having reached the end of its shelf life, Zagory said. Whereas another commodity could be said to be living in the “afterlife” of produce freshness when it starts to get slimy, he said.

For many commodities, browning is the measure of choice for determining shelf life, Zagory said. Researchers are always busy trying to find the next perfect solution for a given fruit or vegetable’s browning tendencies.

That technology can make a world of difference in the marketplace, Zagory said.

Take apples, for instance, he said. For years, scientists tried to figure out how to keep fresh-cut apples from browning. And for years, fresh-cut apples were a fledgling category.

Then NatureSeal came along. A product of Mantrose-Haeuser Co. Inc., Westport, Conn., the coating paved the way for fresh-cut apples in the late 1990s. The vitamin and mineral coating inhibits browning while maintaining shelf life for as long as two weeks.

Lettuce is another commodity whose death throes can be seen in how brown it’s getting, Zagory said. Researchers are trying to come up with good anti-browning technologies such as protein treatments, he said.

One such treatment, Clean & Core HPC, uses a corn-based protein to treat pre-cored iceberg lettuce at the time of harvest. Made by Global Protein Products Inc., Winslow, Maine, Clean & Core helps iceberg arrive at retail not only less brown but also fresher, moister and with less bruising and decay, according to a company news release.

Another technology that has piqued Zagory’s interest is cutting fruit under water.

This summer, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers taste-tested melons they cut under water and got positive results, according to a report from the California Farm Bureau Federation, Sacramento.

Cutting fruit under water reduces stress to the fruit, the report says. Treating fresh-cut produce with heat and light also may help increase shelf-life of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, the federal researchers said.