May 14, 2006

Optiguide, has developed an innovative “dry fog” humidifier that provides a highly efficient solution to problems associated with moisture and biodegradable products during prolonged periods of storage.Nobody wants to buy, let alone eat, a moldy potato, bruised apple, or a withering underweight fruit or vegetable.

Farmers lose thousands of dollars a year in profit on bad produce that is either thrown out or has lost a percentage of its market value. Although considerable care goes into ensuring the health of crops during their growth and harvest period, the conditions under which fruits and vegetables are stored for the long term are equally important.

So much so that the Israeli company, Optiguide, has developed an innovative “dry fog” humidifier that provides a highly efficient solution to problems associated with moisture and biodegradable products during prolonged periods of storage.

Most fruits and vegetables can be stored for up to twelve months in special cold storage centers as producers stockpile their excess crop to be rationed out during the off season. Although this practice keeps our favorite fruits and veggies fresh on the shelf all year round, the dry cold air causes the produce to lose water over time. Depending on the type of fruit or vegetable, it is possible for the produce to lose up to 12 percent of its original weight in the course of a single year. The acceptable weight loss for a piece of fruit or vegetable to be sold on the market, however, is much lower than that.

To prevent extreme water loss, cold storage rooms are kept at a relatively high humidity that ranges between 85 and 90 percent. The trick to humidifying the room, however, is keeping the air moist without actually allowing water to accumulate on the product surfaces, which can cause bruising and mold. Anybody accustomed to living in a high humidity climate where a constant layer of perspiration on the skin is normal understands that this is no easy feat. Likewise, vegetables are living organisms that perspire somewhat like humans.

Dr. Stanley J. Kays, a researcher at the University of Georgia in College of Agricultural & Environmental Science likened the relationship between moisture and produce to a delicate balancing act.

“By elevating the humidity in the air surrounding the product you can decrease the rate of water loss. If the humidity is too high, however, then you get too much condensation on the surface which accelerates the potential for pathogens (namely fungus) taking over.”

Enter the Optiguide Tabor Atomizer. Located in the Northern Galilee, Optiguide has successfully developed a humidifier that produces water droplets so small that they evaporate into the air before hitting the floor, in essence creating a dry fog. According to Optiguide General Manager, Eyal Manor, its fogger can raise the relative humidity in a cold storage room up to 98 percent without causing moisture to accumulate on the crop. This in turn reduces the water loss experienced by the produce and increases the weight and quality of the product. Since most produce is sold based on weight and quality, the end result is an increase in profit.

Kays has studied the effects of increased relative humidity on sweet potatoes. He found that by increasing the relative humidity in a cold storage room from 85 to 95 percent, the amount of weight lost in the sweet potatoes dropped from 25 percent to four percent over a span of eight months.

In addition, University of Idaho plant science professor, Dr. Gale Kleinkopf determined that a five percent change in the relative humidity from 85% to 90% lowered the water loss on regular potatoes to between a mere two to three percent. “That is a significant number when you are talking about 2,000 potatoes,” he noted.

Both Kleinkopf and Kays tested the Tabor Atomizer and found that it lived up to its potential to provide 98 percent humidity without causing condensation to collect on the potatoes.

For Manor, who guided the company into its first real breakthrough in the American market this year, the results came as no surprise. “When I am doing sales and marketing, I can prove to the client that the return on their investment is very short,” Manor explained.

The Tabor Atomizer also includes control sensors that measure the level of relative humidity in the storage rooms and automatically cause the humidifier to release the micro-droplets when needed. The unique effects of this highly controlled humidity earned Optiguide a spot on the top five patents of the year list assembled by one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Maariv.

Optiguide already has already successfully marketed its idea of controlled humidity to 18 countries around the world, including hundreds of installations across Europe.

For Manor who believes the humidifier’s utility in any kind of cold storage center is endless, the American market has a lot to offer. The company is currently marketing the Tabor Atomizer across the United States to many industries that rely on long-term storage of their products. These include wineries (controlled humidity can reduce evaporation in wine barrel to a mere 1% a year) on the west coast, cotton gins in the south, and mushrooms, potatoes and apples located in various regions.

Some of Optiguide’s consumers discover their own unique uses for the humidifier. Dr. Matt White, a process automation engineer with Stemilt Growers, the Washington state packer of cherries and apples decided not to use the humidifier in the storage his apples after he installed a more efficient cooling system that kept water loss in the apples to a minimum. He found, however, that the Tabor Atomizer foggers were extremely effective in retaining moisture during the initial cooling process of the fruit when it was first harvested.

“I would recommend the Tabor Atomizer because it is extremely efficient when it is 100 degrees outside and the temperature of the fruit needs to be brought down before being stored,” he noted.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director