As unlikely as it may sound, we could eat some otherwise sensitive fruit, like strawberries and blackberries all year long. The innovative European project FRIETS shows us how this could be implemented.

Have you ever thought about eating berries throughout the year? Have you ever thought about the amount of berries that ends up in the trash due to their perishable life?

Nowadays, the fast pace of lifestyle discourages people from reaching an optimal daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Berries, for instance, are a source of bioactive compounds with significant benefits to human health, and rich in nutrients. Besides, these products’ seasonality and short shelf-life lead to food loss along the food chain and the need to create other forms of natural, nutritive, healthy, and personalized ready-to-eat snacks. There is a lack of healthy food snacks with no added sugar or chemical preservatives for personalized nutrition in the market.

The innovative European project FRIETS aims at the development and marketization of personalized, nutritious, and innovative soft fruit (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry) smart snacks that contain no added sugar, sodium, or chemical preservatives, as a palatable way to increase daily fruit consumption and extend shelf-life. To achieve this, the project is using optimized pre-harvest management practices for cultivating high-quality berries, such as precision agriculture, as well as developing and optimizing low-impact post-harvest technologies, such as osmotic dehydration (removal of water through high osmotic pressure to obtain concentrated food) and edible coatings (a thin layer that wraps a food product, is safe to be consumed, and is used to prolong the shelf life of that food).

The project started in September 2021, and several fascinating activities are ongoing. For the pre-harvest management, a weather station and smart sensors have been installed in a pilot berry farm located in Cyprus (Mountain Berries Pitsilia), and weather and soil measurements are being analysed by the Agricultural University of Athens (Greece) and Cyprus University of Technology (Cyprus) to identify crop water requirements and optimize fertilization practices. These Precision farming methodologies will be later duplicated in a second pilot farm in Malta (Mgarr Farming). For the post-harvest management, Natural Food Additives (Greece) has optimized the extraction methods (innovative green extraction techniques, using environmentally-friendly solvents) of bioactive compounds that have antioxidant and health-promoting activities, which will be later added to edible coatings formulated by the National Technical University of Athens (Greece), the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and the CENCIRA company (Romania), using microalgae and macroalgae, to be applied on fresh and osmotically dried products. In parallel, the National Technical University of Athens (Greece) together with Rezos Brands (Greece) are optimizing mild and energy-efficient drying techniques (osmotic dehydration, freeze drying, microwave vacuum drying, or their combination) using limited or no sugar or salt, and low temperatures. The University of Malta (Malta) evaluates the most common mycotoxins (metabolites naturally produced by fungi, capable of causing disease and death in humans) and fungal contaminants of the studied berries to develop models and optimized strategies to control the spoilage risk of berries. Finally, the University of Huddersfield (UK) and KPAD company (UK) are conducting a Life Cycle Analysis and socio-techno-economic analysis for the sustainable development of the new products developed in the FRIETS project. DIGNITY company (Greece) is responsible for the dissemination and communication activities of the project.

The FRIETS innovative project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101007783. The project consortium consists of 13 partners from 5 European countries, including Greece, United Kingdom, Romania, Malta, and Cyprus and the project’s coordinator is the agrifood company Rezos Brands (Patras, Greece). FRIETS implementation is based on staff secondments, strengthening collaborative research among different countries and sectors to ultimately promote young entrepreneurship, self-employment, and innovation in the agri-food value chain, to meet EU sustainability goals.

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