`Smart' Shipping That Keeps Produce Fresh For Weeks

Succulent Georgia peaches can boost a soldier's morale, but at great expense: The military has long flown fresh fruit and vegetables to remote bases, since the food would rot during cheaper ocean voyages. Not any more. American President Lines in Oakland, Calif., in collaboration with researchers at the University of California at Davis, has developed microprocessor-controlled, refrigerated shipping containers that precisely regulate levels of oxygen, nitrogen, and other atmospheric gases to maintain a mix that keeps produce fresh for weeks. The containers can also scrub the air of the ethylene given off by apples and other produce that can, for example, leave spots on lettuce and make carrots bitter.

In January, the Defense Dept. began shipping produce via American President to Guam. Next, it plans sea shipments to Japan, Korea, and Okinawa--for an annual saving of $6 million to $8 million, says Navy Lieutenant Commander James Kerber. Meanwhile, American President is working with researchers to develop containers that keep oxygen levels low enough to suffocate insects without damaging produce. These smart containers could help boost produce shipments to countries that want to avoid importing foreign insects.

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