The story of Nikos

‘Longer shelf life means less waste’

Which traits determine how long a vegetable stays fresh? And how can Rijk Zwaan improve this at genetic level? Nikos Ntagkas explains passionately all about it. As Post-harvest Researcher at Rijk Zwaan he investigates everything related to the shelf life of vegetables. His desire to contribute to a better world is Nikos’ biggest motivation. You could even call it his ‘mission’.

Longer shelf life

“If vegetables have an extended shelf life, which means if they stay fresh for longer, there is less waste so we can feed more mouths with the same amount of production. The energy involved in the production and transport of vegetables no longer goes to waste, plus the financial yield of the crop is higher which translates into a higher income for the grower. When you look at it like that, a longer shelf life is directly linked to global issues such as sustainability and food security.”

The reasons behind waste

“One important cause of food waste is the lack of awareness among consumers. People are quick to throw food away without really thinking about it. In the European Union, consumer households account for 53% of all the food that is wasted, and another 30% of the food waste occurs during production and processing.

In our sector, the rising consumer demand for more variety and convenience is reflected in a broad range of fresh-cut and bagged vegetables, for instance. That has a negative effect on the shelf life.”

Innovative solutions

“At Rijk Zwaan we’ve developed an innovative trait in lettuce which reduces pinking at the edges. KnoxTM extends the shelf life of lettuce by at least two days. We’re also working to extend the shelf life of other vegetables such as tomato, cucumber and pepper, and we’re studying how different types of packaging materials affect the shelf life.”

Personal level

As for Nikos himself, he tries to avoid wasting vegetables as much as possible. “Buy vegetables in their natural seasons. That’s healthier and also generates less waste. Store vegetables properly; don’t refrigerate tomatoes and keep them somewhere light. That helps to preserve their nutritional value, plus they will taste better too.”

Together with Nikos, Rijk Zwaan is working to develop resilient varieties that have a better shelf life and retain their flavour and nutritional value for longer. This reduces the amount of food waste and results in more vegetables being available for both growers and consumers.