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RipeLocker holds organic blueberries in pristine condition for eight weeks

By
Adam Campbell

RipeLocker, a leader in extending the post-harvest life of perishables, announced its RipeLocker containers recently held freshly harvested organic blueberries in pristine condition for eight weeks. In the trial, the company used six of its pallet-size RipeLocker containers to store fresh organic blueberries from Wapato, WA-based Blueberry Hill. As a result of this strong performance, Blueberry Hill plans to lease commercial RipeLocker containers, which will be available this summer.

In addition to growing its own blueberries, Blueberry Hill owns Sorbatto Fresh, a packing and storing facility for 20 blueberry growers in Washington state. About 90 percent of the blueberries managed by Sorbatto Fresh are organic. By using RipeLocker containers, Blueberry Hill can greatly extend its normal selling season for blueberries, increase margins and provide higher quality for longer periods of time to its many customers. Retailers and consumers gain better eating quality berries with longer shelf life.

George Lobisser
George Lobisser

The patented, dynamic, low-atmosphere RipeLocker containers are used for storing and shipping fresh produce and flowers, and extend the post-harvest life by weeks — often months. They are pallet-size, made from recycled materials and are reusable. RipeLocker containers are leased to customers on an annual basis and the realized returns far exceed the cost of the lease. The company has already completed efficacy trials with several high-value commodities such as berries, pomegranates, cherries, papayas, fresh hops and flowers, and it expects to announce additional orders of RipeLocker containers soon.

“Using RipeLocker containers to extend the post-harvest life of fresh produce and flowers quickly translates to better quality, longer selling seasons and greater margins for growers and packers,” said George Lobisser, CEO and co-founder of RipeLocker. “We have seen excellent results in our efficacy trials, including this one with Blueberry Hill, and are confident we will soon become the preferred container for storing and shipping perishables around the world. In addition, the ultra-low oxygen and pressure environment of our RipeLocker containers makes them perfect for organics.”

Lobisser was previously owner and CEO of Pace International, which he sold in 2012 with plans to retire. “I started to get bored and then this vacuum technology came my way through various channels,” he said. “A commercial launch of vacuum technology was attempted in the 70s by Grumman based on their experiences in building the lunar module. One of the things they discovered is that perishables last much longer in vacuum: low pressure, low oxygen environments. The challenge with vacuum is that because there’s very little air in the container the forces pressing against that container are severe. That makes large vacuum chambers really expensive to build.” The company has developed and patented proprietary processes allowing them to produce and operate the RipeLocker containers at a viable price making vacuum technology available in mass scale to the produce industry for the first time.

“We were extremely pleased with the pristine quality of the blueberries that had been stored in the RipeLocker containers for eight weeks. They looked like they came right out of the field,” said Jeff Weijohn, owner of Blueberry Hill. “After seeing such great results, we quickly signed up to lease the RipeLocker containers as we anticipate a strong ROI from using them.”

Blueberry Hill plans to use the RipeLocker containers it leases to store and ship its blueberries and potentially other perishables in the future. The company expects to be able to use each container four to five times each season. 

RipeLocker containers offer a unique, patented system to manage the atmospheric pressure, humidity and gas composition (oxygen and CO2) within the containers to extend the life of fresh produce and flowers. The containers suppress pathogen growth, resulting in significantly less decay. In addition, RipeLocker containers can provide a vehicle for delivering organic fungicide vapors to kill the pathogen.

Based on the specific needs of each type of fresh produce or flower, RipeLocker tailors operating parameters, such as internal pressure, oxygen and CO2 levels, to optimize the longevity and freshness. The system responds to changes in the storage or shipping environment, making automatic precise adjustments to prevent damage and reduce decay.

“We know that when fruit is harvested, it continues to age, loses moisture because it’s cut off from its source and pathogens attack,” explained Lobisser. “The primary way of holding a perishable is to cool it ASAP — nothing beats refrigeration, get it cold, fast. Number two: reduce oxygen in the atmosphere be it a room, bag or coating. Number three: slow down transpiration; and four: in certain crops, is apply fungicides.” The air inside the RipeLocker containers is fully saturated, meaning the produce cannot transpire because the moisture has nowhere to go. “We’ve held blueberries for up to three months.” According to Lobisser, the ultra-low oxygen in the RipeLocker suppresses pathogens. “The oxygen is so low that the pathogen cannot grow,” he stated. “It is totally suppressed.”

 

RipeLocker designed its containers to be pallet sized so they can be deployed easily based on current storage infrastructure and take advantage of the existing cold chain. Produced using novel materials and highly scalable manufacturing processes, the RipeLocker container is the first solution that can be delivered cost effectively in mass volume. RipeLocker has patents on both the container design and method of operation.

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