In cities where millions of people live, it is no longer so easy to access "fresh" food. Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables placed on shelves undergo some chemical processes to extend their shelf life. However, the high rate of these chemicals is harmful not only to human health but also to the national economy. Nanomik, an Istanbul Technical University (İTU) Çekirdek startup that provides a unique solution to this problem, ensures that fresh and dried foods can be eaten safely and exported with the technology it has developed. This technology does not leave any chemical residue on the food and can maintain the quality of the product at the maximum rate.
Buse Berber Örçen, one of the founding partners of Nanomik, explained the chemical preservation problem in the food sector. "Today, there are two different systems used to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables in our country and the world," she said. "The first one is the products that prevent the loss of oxygen and water, while the other is the products that affect the organism, which deteriorates the quality of the product. Since both methods alone do not provide sufficient protection, they are usually combined. Most of the preservatives used to increase shelf life are chemical. These chemicals are harmful to humans, the environment and even products, so their use at certain doses is restricted."
Örçen said Nanomik recognized this problem and developed technology that would provide natural protection, further explaining how this technology makes its products smart and how it forms a shield on fresh food. "When first applied, our product covers the whole fruit surface with an edible layer. This provides an equivalent effect to the alternative product used today to prevent oxygen permeability and water loss. Components that maintain the quality of the product are then released from this edible coating in a controlled manner for 48 hours," she continued. "This is the equivalent of organism-blocking preservatives. In short, we have cleverly combined the two systems that protect the quality of products and increase shelf life with the technology we have developed. With this system, it is possible to observe the activity as much as the chemical protection systems used in the market, with zero residues, which is our biggest advantage over natural preservatives in other countries."
Evaluating the situation regarding food safety in Turkey, Buse Berber Örçen said that international restrictions are applied successfully and that Turkey's problem with food safety is more global. "For example, in recent years, dozens of people lost their lives due to a micro-organism transmitted from organic food certified product group even in a country which is tightly controlled like Germany," Örçen recalled. "Controlling the production of each producer requires serious effort and manpower. There are steps taken to ensure full control of this, but it is very new."
Örçen also pointed out that Turkey still ranks first in the global sense in agricultural production. "Our main problem as a country is not to produce high-quality products and manage the process of the products until they reach the producers from the field. Today, the excess medicine used in the garden, unfortunately, due to the problem of residues, prevents the use of post-harvest preservatives. In terms of exporters, no company has never dealt with these problems and experienced any shortage of residues. But the lack of an alternative here often hinders the manufacturer," Örçen noted, stressed that the fact that the chemical preservatives used abroad are of international origin increases production costs.
Explaining that European countries and the U.S. are more sensitive than many countries in terms of residue limits, Örçen said the world is ultimately targeting zero residues, adding the cold stores, cold chain applications, and natural preservatives used today are all for this purpose. "That's why many chemical-pharmaceutical companies around the world are investing in natural solutions," she said. "It is confirmed by bad examples that organic production is often not a solution. Pesticide use has been cited as a crime on such an agenda that most people think it is better not to use pesticides. But these products actually prevent the organisms that are possibly harmful to the health and the product from the soil to reach our table. So, the use of preservatives is almost mandatory. That's why there must be protection, but it must be provided with natural, edible products."
'If a product has 3 preservatives, Europe will not take it'
Buse Berber Örçen, the founding partner of Nanomik producing agricultural nanotechnology, gave some warnings to food producers. "If a product has three preservatives applied in the garden and three chemical residues, it cannot enter most European countries," she explained. "In this case, the exporter can only sell the product to cheap markets without residual limits. Who would not want to sell their product at a higher value? We are in talks to make sure of this. In other words, the exporter does not want to use chemicals, as we often think, but they are obliged to use pesticide because there is no alternative, and they must export the product intact. We, as the solution partners of exporters targeting larger markets, take our place with them."
What should the consumer look for in fresh food?
Buse Berber Örçen, one of the founding partners of Nanomik, offers a technology that protects food without harmful chemicals.
Örçen had some advice to consumers, suggesting that fruit and vegetable consumption should be made according to the season. Noting that some markets perform pesticide analysis and offer products suitable for analysis, Örçen said buying products from these markets might be an alternative. "Imported products usually go through a lot of analyses while entering our country, so we know that at least it is accepted by a certain authority," she continued. "I personally make sure to purchase the fruit and vegetables that I consume from reliable markets. Highly polished products or products with burns are likely to have a high chemical use. Our elders had a habit of eating wormy fruit. In fact, this is the most natural and understandable solution."