Scientist Steven F. Vaughn of the U.S. Agriculture Dept. was irked by moldy raspberries and strawberries at his local supermarket. So he devised a solution that might please even the likes of Jeremy Rifkin, biotech's most famous critic. The answer: a chemical that's part of the berry's own fruity aroma. The cost: less than a penny to treat a quart.
Unlike bananas, most berries have to be picked fully ripe. This means fungi can easily make short work of their shelf life. Berry-lover Vaughn screened more than 300 chemicals found in berries. He found five compounds that prevent fungal growth for a week in berries kept at 50F. He chose one of them, 2-nonanone, for its pleasant, fruity aroma and chemical stability. Mixed with modified cornstarch, the chemical is slowly released to keep fungal spores from germinating. The powder could be added to plastic carton liners. Vaughn has applied for a patent and has three packaging companies interested in bringing it to market.