Ozone keeps fruit fresh on the high seas

Novazone uses remote-controlled blasts of ozone to keep fresh produce from spoiling at sea.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
Novazone has come up with a service that will prevent fruits and vegetables from going bad after going to sea.

Transportation is no friend to food. Nearly 30 percent of the food harvested in the world spoils before it gets to stores, according to U.N. statistics.

"Once they ship it, all bets are off," said Novazone CEO David Cope.

Novazone's PurFresh System is essentially a scaled-down and enhanced version of the Livermore, Calif.-based company's ozone purification systems. Its equipment sprays minute amounts of ozone onto fruits and vegetables to kill mold and other microorganisms. Right now, the company installs systems in cold storage units, which hold produce until it's ready to go onto shelves, but has said it wants to expand into purification units for transportation and retail outlets.

"It just snaps right in," said Cope of the PurFresh system. "There's no cutting, no drilling."

Controlling the ozone dosage is a key consideration: too much ozone can discolor or hurt produce. To accomplish that while produce is out at sea, the on-ship microcontrollers and sensors that manage ozone delivery will be linked via satellite to computers at Novazone. The company will then monitor and control dosage. The system will also take actions to control temperature, humidity and send alerts.

Food and water have become one of the growing segments of the clean-tech market. Organic produce sales are rising, and because organic produce can't be treated with chemicals, growers and retailers have started to invest in things like ozone purification and biopesticides to kill bugs and pests.

PurFresh can be used on organic and non-organic produce. There are also a lot of ships out there. The company estimates that 1.4 million container ships now ply the world's oceans. Each ship makes four to six trips a year and can hold anywhere from 150 to several hundred food containers. The purification system also continues to work after the container leaves the ship and gets slapped on a truck.

Novazone will sell PurFresh as a service, charging about $500 to $1,500 per container, depending upon, among other factors, the length of the voyage.

Who will pay the fee? That depends, said Cope. Some retailers may pick it up themselves. Shippers may also add it as a premium service.