US: Spicy paper keeps fruit and veg fresher for longer

Many technologies have been developed to promote the shelf life of fruit and vegetables in the home – and now there’s a new one. Introducing FreshPaper, claimed to keep such foods fresh two to four times longer than normal – and it does so using spices.

The proprietary mix of organic spices infused in every paper sheet was discovered by inventor Kavita Shukla, when she paid a visit to her grandmother in India. It turned out that her grandmother’s family had been using the formulation for generations, to prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

Although the exact ingredients are a trade secret, the fact that Shukla’s company is called Fenugreen points to the fact that fenugreek is one of them, a spice commonly used in Indian cooking.

So how FreshPaper it work? “It basically works by inhibiting bacterial and fungal growth, as well as the enzymes that cause fruit to over-ripen,” says the company founder, Kavita Shukla, who patented the idea while still in high school. 

“The concept is that you can just drop a sheet into a drawer or carton. Sometimes people put it into a fruit bowl. Our customers call it a ‘dryer sheet for produce.’” Each certified organic and biodegradable sheet lasts about two to three weeks, until its distinctive maple-like scent begins to fade.

“That’s how you know it’s no longer active,” Shukla explains.

Initially, Shukla toyed with the idea of turning FreshPaper into a nonprofit focused on food spoilage in the developing world, but as a college student inexperienced in the complexities of philanthropic work, she had little success.

“I started to doubt myself,” she says. “Even people with the best intentions were saying, you know, ‘Maybe you should move beyond what you worked on in high school.’”

After graduation, she got a job doing research, but she couldn’t stop thinking about FreshPaper, and in 2010, she decided to launch Fenugreen as a social enterprise.

“My co-founder and I set up a stall at a farmer’s market,” she says. “We handmade a batch of FreshPaper, and started handing out sheets. And although not a lot of people stopped by and listened to us that first time, we were amazed by the reaction of the few people who did. I think we realised that spoilage is a big problem even in our own backyard, which is something I never understood.”

FreshPaper sells for US$4.99 for a pack of eight sheets, or $42.99 for ten eight-packs.

Read more about FreshPaper on Fast, part of Change Generation, its series on young, change-making entrepreneurs. Read the rest here.