New in South African citrus season 2014:

Chemical-free citrus post-harvest becoming new standard

For as long as can be remembered, chemical compounds have been used to treat oranges post-harvest. Increased awareness of apparent harmful side-effects is rapidly changing the world’s outlook on the use of these chemicals. Some countries have become so sensitive to the matter that chemicals used post-harvest have been banned.

Within this context, Dutch fresh produce company, Cool Fresh International, have taken it upon themselves to find an effective post-harvest treatment against fungi, bacteria and viruses. Cool Fresh is currently succeeding in their endeavour by using environmentally-friendly, biodegradable products which are 100% safe for human consumption both at production level, as well as, at the consumer level.



To this end the company – an established fresh fruit specialist with clients in over 50 countries – embarked on a research project in partnership with a number of strategic partners: EKM Fruit South Africa (sole exporters of the GOGO group), is Cool Fresh’s primary South African citrus supplier; Han Maathuis of BioClean – a company devoted to hygiene optimisation in critical business processes – and Rene Besteman of Besteman Techno Support – a company which specialises in low volume mist installations -. 


The challenge was to enable growers to establish full control over mildews and pathogenic germs in a safe, consistent manner. The aim was to be able to provide the same great looking, great tasting citrus that is disease free and that has the same shelf life as fruit treated with harsh post-harvest chemicals.


Eben Kruger, of EKM Fruit and GOGO, explains: “In 2011, we conducted the first small-scale tests on our farms in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo area. Implementing the process was easy. We made use of specifically designed nebulizers to gradually adjust the dossages of the biodegradable treatments exactly and efficiently”. 

According to Niels Stolk, of Cool Fresh International, these first tests were promising in the sense that the treated fruit arrived in Europe in the same condition as those treated with Thiabendazole, Orthophenyl Phenol or Imazalil. The treated pallets were stored for a long period of time with good results. Upon experiencing such great results, Cool Fresh immediately devoted far more resources to the study.

“After a lot more fine-tuning, monitoring, and optimising, we scaled up the volume. After just 2 short months, a copious amount of “green” treated oranges were shipped and sold with much success Each shipment consisted of two lots of fruit from the same orchard: one was treated with traditional chemicals and the other with our biodegradable, chemical-free product. Most importantly, our product left no trace on the oranges whatsoever.” Stolk says.


In 2013, the tests were finally ready to be performed on a commercial level. Participation from our clients who agreed to partake in the tests was widespread. Our chemical-free products were used throughout the entire supply chain, from the minute the fruit was picked, right through to the final destination. The results, in this case, were extremely satisfactory.

After three seasons of testing, EKM Fruit, GOGO, Cool Fresh, BioClean and Besteman are ready to up the ante. Eben Kruger of EKM Fruit affirms that, in the coming 2014 season, he will be extending the process to a number of his group’s farms. A large amount of the group’s late varieties will be confidently treated using our new products.


Han Maathuis, of BioClean says that, a harvested orange is a living organism. It breathes and it is sensitive to environmental factors. This requires optimum packing conditions, such as a correct temperature and humidity. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi need to be combated, but not with treatments which are worse than the problem. He states, “Our process flawlessly keeps the balance between fruit hygiene and consumer safety.” 

For the 2014 season, arrivals will be monitored by Dutch certified food laboratory, Groen Agro Control, who will perform analyses on the shipments. Prior to departure, tests will also be performed by the relevant South African food safety bodies. Cool Fresh and their partners in the project believe that they are setting a new standard. The ambitious project is fast ensuring clean, healthy, great tasting citrus to retailers. “We are in a new era,” says Stolk, “No longer do retailers and consumers have to accept the use of potentially damaging fungicides and disinfection products to ensure a good shelf life for their products.”