Dec 5, 2023

Ecopec Food Freshness Retainer (A natural coating to enhance the shelf-life of fresh fruits and vegetables)



Introductory Remarks

This presentation made by Assoc Prof B.Ramasawmy Molaye of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Mauritius, discusses a research project funded by the Higher Education Commission in 2018, completed in 2022, and extended through the work of a PhD student. The focus of the presentation is on commercialization rather than the technical details. The project developed "EcoPEC Food Freshness Retainer" a trademarked product of the University of Mauritius aimed at extending the shelf life of minimally processed fruits and vegetables using Rodriguan lime peel extract and pectin from citrus fruits.

 Key Motivations for conducting the project "EcoPEC Food Freshness Retainer"
  • Reducing Food Waste: A primary driver of the project was to address the significant issue of food loss and waste, particularly in the fruit and vegetable value chain. By extending the shelf life of these products, the project aimed to reduce the amount of perishable produce that is discarded due to spoilage.

  • Enhancing Food Preservation: The project focused on developing a novel, natural coating to enhance the preservation of minimally processed fruits and vegetables. This was especially relevant for perishable items that have a short shelf life, like strawberries and pineapples.

  • Sustainable Practices: The use of Rodriguan lime peel extract and pectin from citrus fruits indicates a commitment to sustainability. By utilizing natural and potentially waste-derived materials, the project aimed to contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy.

  • Local Relevance and Application: In Mauritius, where the project was based, there was a noted absence of locally applied coatings to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Much of the available produce, especially imported fruits, come pre-coated. This project sought to develop a local solution to this global problem.

  • Economic Benefits: Extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables can have significant economic benefits. It can reduce costs related to spoilage and waste for producers, retailers, and consumers. Additionally, it can enhance the profitability of local agricultural products by making them more appealing and longer-lasting in the market.

  • Health and Nutritional Value: By keeping fruits and vegetables fresh for longer, the project also aimed to preserve their nutritional value, ensuring that consumers have access to healthier food options.

  • Innovation in Food Technology: The project represented an innovation in food technology, combining research in biochemistry and food science to create a product that could have a real-world impact on food preservation practices.

  • Potential for Commercial Success: With the focus on commercialization, the project aimed not only to develop a scientifically effective product but also one that could succeed in the market, offering new business opportunities and potentially leading to job creation, including the offer made to the PhD student involved in the project.

 Key Points of the Presentation

Project Overview: The project explored the use of a coating derived from Rodriguan lime peel extract and pectin to enhance the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. This coating was applied to minimally processed products like pineapples and strawberries.
  • Phase One of the Project: The initial phase focused on testing the coating on fresh-cut fruits and vegetables like pineapples, strawberries and pumpkin.

  • Motivation: Addressing food loss and waste in the fruit and vegetable value chain was a key motivator. The project aimed to offer a unique solution for extending shelf life, especially in Mauritius, where most coatings are applied to imported fruits.

  • Project Outcomes: The presentation highlighted the potential of the coating to reduce waste and extend the shelf life of products like pineapples, strawberries, and pumpkins by 11–13 days, which is significant for retailers and processors.


  •   Collaboration and Machine Design: Collaboration with Assoc Prof Dr Haree Ramaswamy of the Faculty of Engineering led to the design of a machine for applying the coating industrially.

     Focus Group Findings: A focus group with key actors in the fruit and vegetable value chain showed a positive response towards the coating, with a willingness to pay for it and potential job offers for the PhD student involved.

  • Commercialization and Trademark: The "Ecotech Food Freshness Retainer” is a trademarked product, with efforts underway for commercialization. The speaker acknowledged challenges in commercializing the product and outlined plans to overcome them.

  • Future Work: Future phases include further testing for cytotoxicity and application of the coating to the Rodriguan lime itself, aiming to reduce waste during shipping.

Cost Analysis:In the presentation, specific figures were mentioned regarding the cost of producing the coating developed in the project, as well as its selling price. These figures were provided in Mauritian Rupees (MUR). Here are the key financial details:

  • Cost of Producing the Coating: It was estimated that producing one kilogram (1 kg) of the coating powder, referred to as "Eco Pack powder," would cost around 829 Mauritian Rupees.

  • Initial Investment: The speaker mentioned an initial investment of approximately 872,000 Mauritian Rupees for the production setup.

  • Reconstitution into Solution: One kilogram of the Eco Pack powder could be reconstituted into 33 litres of the coating solution.

  • Application Volume: This volume of solution was sufficient to coat approximately 165 kilograms of fruits and vegetables, though this could vary depending on the size and type of produce.

  • Projected Retail Price: The estimated selling price for the coating is around 1006 Mauritian Rupees per kg at the retail level (or MUR 914/kg if sold to agricultural input suppliers as a distributor).





Dec 3, 2023

Overview of the Food Innovation Lab (FIL) of the Faculty of Agriculture and its Inception

The Food Innovation Lab (FIL) was inaugurated on 01 Dec 2023. This blog highlights  its significance and role within the University of Mauritius’s framework for research and innovation. The laboratory has been spearheaded by two academics from the Faculty of Agriculture, Assoc Prof B. Ramasawmy Molaye and Dr H. Neetoo.

The leading team in conversation with the University of Mauritius Vice Chancellor Prof S. Sobhee and Chancellor Dr J.C. Autrey

1. Role and Importance of FILThe establishment of the Innovation Lab was a significant step, though it faced challenges and skepticism, particularly regarding its necessity since there was already a food lab on the main campus. However, the Innovation Lab was distinct, focusing on innovation and working closely with crops grown on the university farm, like cassava and sweet potatoes. The FIL is therefore seen as a major step forward in innovative practices at the university. It provides hands-on experience for researchers to enhance their business skills while applying their research and innovation knowledge.

2. Focus on Local Raw Materials: The FIL emphasizes using local raw materials and ingredients, aiming to add value to Mauritian agricultural commodities like fresh fruits, vegetables, cow milk, goat milk, etc. This approach is integral to the development of sustainable and healthy food products.

3. Smart Bite Project: 
Smart bite became the university's first trademarked product. The lab was developed and equipped as part of the "Smart Bite" project, leading to the successful commercialization of a breakfast cereal made from local cassava, in partnership with a women-led SME, Maniodix. Cassava’s year-round availability makes it a sustainable choice.The lab has been instrumental in launching innovative health-focused food products. These include a low GI, high-protein breakfast snack launched between 2018-2020, and a cassava-based breakfast cereal product partly funded by the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology.

The team with the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Assoc. Prof D.Puchooa, fourth from the left
4. Goals of FIL: The FIL aims to engage students, researchers, and entrepreneurs in creating value-added products using local ingredients. Hence, the FIL is envisioned as a dynamic space for innovation, not only for academic pursuits but also as an incubator for entrepreneurs, especially women, to develop and test new food product ideas. This initiative is also seen as a step towards encouraging the consumption of local and healthier food products, contributing to a more sustainable diet and resilient food system in Mauritius. This aligns with the sustainable development goals, particularly focusing on responsible consumption and production.

5. Location and Infrastructure: The FIL is situated in the Agritech part of the university farm, within the Agri-processing incubator. The processing incubator, renovated under funds from the EU for the AgriTech  park (completed in 2020), includes lecture/training rooms and specialized labs (Dairy processing lab and Fruits and Vegetables processing lab).

6. Utilization and Outreach: The FIL has been used for workshops (like the dairy value-added product workshop for women entrepreneurs and dairy farmers) and is in discussion for further training programs for women entrepreneurs in partnership with the national women entrepreneur council (NWEC).

7. Innovative Projects and Research: The lab has been instrumental in launching innovative health-focused food products. These include a low GI, high-protein breakfast snack launched between 2018-2020, and a cassava-based breakfast cereal product partly funded by the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology (MAST).

8. Incubation and Training: FIL serves as an incubation space for entrepreneurs, providing training in food business skills with the help of the university's faculty staff. This is aimed at fostering new food product ideas and supporting small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, particularly women.

9. Adaptation to Changing Needs: The lab is expected to continuously innovate and adapt to changing food techniques and challenges.

In conclusion, in establishing the Food Innovation Lab, the Faculty of Agriculture is taking a significant step towards fostering innovation in food technology, promoting sustainable food production, and contributing to local and global food security.