(Dec. 10, 10:50 a.m.) Nogales, Ariz.-based Malena Produce Inc. has developed a postharvest process that provides higher-quality eggplants with better retail shelf life.

By streamlining harvesting techniques and controlling temperatures throughout the packing process, Malena has reworked its entire packing and handling system, resulting in a product that lasts longer on the shelf, company officials say.

The first step is reducing bruising by handling the eggplants less. The vegetables are packed in a centralized refrigerated facility near the growing fields instead of a mobile field-based shed, said salesman Basilio Avila.

“It’s getting (the eggplant) to its ideal temperature quicker. We’re using boxes with padding to eliminate bruising and mechanical scars,” Avila said. “And once in the packing set, it’s going through the packing line reaching its ideal temperature the whole time, including passing it through potable water which helps with its firmness.”

Then the eggplants are labeled and sorted into a modified-atmosphere bag in a single-layer box.

“Eggplant is very delicate, so we’re changing the pack style,” Avila said. “What we were doing before was 1 1/6-bushel boxes, and we’d stack them on top of each other. With the ride up from Mexico, it would affect it. Now we’re using a box that doesn’t stack them on top of each other, eliminating further bruising.”

By optimizing air circulation and eliminating multiple-layer boxes, the shelf life of eggplants has been extended, Avila said.

“(The bags) control and set the right level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in each box so the eggplant lasts up to two weeks longer,” Avila said.

By extending shelf life, Malena hopes to provide new opportunities for retailers and expand the category, Avila said.

The new process is a result of several months’ examination of processes, Avila said.

“We’ve been working on (the new process) all summer, a few ideas here and there, and information we gathered all the way back to my grandfather, John Stamos, who started the business,” Avila said. “We felt that it’s time to change in a way to modernize the whole process using the technology available today to make a better product.”

Shipments packed using the new process begin in January.