Retailers will be offering asparagus with up to three days’ more shelf life this year thanks to a new rapid chilling system.
The On Farm Rapid Chill Plant - the first of its kind in the UK - has been installed by supplier Barfoots of Botley at its Sefter Farm, West Sussex, site. Asparagus that has been chilled using the new system is expected to go into Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores this weekend or early next week, as the asparagus season kicks off.
The system was developed by Barfoots in partnership with STS Refrigeration, and could mark a significant step forward for the British asparagus industry, which is always looking for ways to maximise the crop’s value and avoid wastage because of its short growing season.
Barfoots’ system works by chilling field-cut asparagus from up to 20C down to 2C in 12 hours - less than half the time needed by other field heat removal systems.
It has invested about £100,000 in the new plant, which can chill daily loads of up to 15,000kg of asparagus.
Field heat is picked up naturally from the soil and can cause veg to deteriorate. Removing it as quickly as possible without damaging the veg had always been a challenge for growers, said James Meers, business manager at Barfoots.
Alongside British strawberries and Jersey Royals, asparagus was a top summer line, Meers added. Traditionally, the asparagus season runs between April and July, but this year, some growers have warned the crop will be delayed because of the cold weather.