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UVB treatments of packaged ready-to-eat salads

 

Ready-To-Eat (RTE) salads conveniently pre-prepared in bags can promote the intake of natural bioactive compounds, including antivirals such as quercetin. However, the content of these compounds in the species used for RTE salads is usually low due to limited solar UV exposure under tunnels and greenhouses in which they are usually cultivated. 

To address this, Italian Researchers treated commercial fresh-cut lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia L.) leaves using a narrow-band UVB lamp directly through sealed polypropylene bags during storage (5-6°C, 80% RH). The bagged leaf samples were kept under 20 µmol m-2 s-1 of white light with a 12 h photoperiod for 6 d. Half of the samples were additionally treated, 9 h/day, during the first 3 d by UVB narrow-band lamps delivering 2.8-3.6 µmol m-2s-1 of UVB and 0.8-1.0 µmol m-2s-1 of UVA radiation. The effects of the UVB treatments on epidermal phenolics, chlorophyll and photosynthetic parameters were monitored daily by non-destructive fluorescence sensors over a 6-d storage period. At the end of the experiment, destructive HPLC-DAD analysis of phenolics and photosynthetic pigments, antioxidant capacity assays and fresh weight loss determinations were conducted. The UVB-treatment increased the epidermal phenolics (EPhen) Index with respect to unirradiated controls, while not affecting chlorophyll and carotenoids levels as well as photosynthetic efficiency. For both species, the EPhen Index changes were detected 15 h after the first UVB application. Then, wild rocket responded faster than baby-leaf lettuce and reached the maximal phenolic level with less than 1/3 of the energy dose needed by lettuce. UVB-treated samples exhibited higher flavonoid concentrations (mainly quercetin derivatives) compared to controls (48-67% and 37-66% in lettuce and wild rocket, respectively). Leaf chlorophyll and carotenoid contents were not affected by both UVB treatment and storage. We proved, for the first time, that it is possible to treat RTE salad leaves using through-packaging UVB radiation and enhance their total phenolic and quercetin derivative contents. We also provided more insights concerning the dynamics of the UVB-elicitation of phenolic compounds in postharvest leaves.

The results published in Postharvest Biology and Technology journal are propaedeutic for the optimization of potential UVB-treatments; selection of the most efficient wavelengths, intensity, single/multiple doses and proposals for application in the food industry. 

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