Scotland Food & Drink

Suppression of Ethylene and other gases in fresh fruit and vegetable storage 


Photo Catalytic Oxidation is a new technology which has been highly effective at enhancing the shelf life of fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat products. Developed by NASA for their mission to Mars, PCO is a valuable addition to chill storage increasing product life by up to 10 days. Surface Air Technologies can support and advise on the implementation of PCO within your operation.

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What is PCO and how does it work ? 

A common problem with storing fresh fruit and vegetables in the emission of gases, particularly Ethylene, as the product ages. 

Ethylene then reacts with other product within the vicinity and this speeds up the decomposition of stock. 

Consequently the shelf life of the fruit or veg is reduced and this reduces margin and profitability. 

Particularly with ongoing supply chain logistics problems it’s now more important than to be able to store produce for longer. 

Figure 1 How Fruit Breaks Down
Figure 2 How Food Breaks Down

There are a number of solutions which can suppress ethylene production and enhance product life. Most common is chilling which slows down the aging process. This is an effective method however it is expensive to run and install. 

Furthermore it does not remove the Ethylene from the ambient atmosphere. It only slows down Ethylene  production. 

Figure 3 Fruit and Veg Ethylene sensitivity

A recent development has been the introduction of UV (Ultra Violet) based technology. This has risen to prominence over the last 18 months as an effective way of treating airborne pathogens such as Covid 19, however it has been used for many years in the food processing industry to sterilise packaging for meat and fish. 

A major development in this field was  PCO (photo catalytic oxidation). First used by NASA for the proposed manned trip to Mars, PCO oxidises airborne pathogens and gases including Ethylene , stripping them from the atmosphere and breaking the gas down into water and carbon dioxide. It is intended that this technology scrubs the atmosphere in the NASA spacecraft of any harmful and poison gases which are emitted from fruit and vegetables being grown in the spaceship for the crew. 

The benefits of this technology have recently been introduced into the fruit and vegetable sector and major fruit producers and suppliers have purchased this technology and seen major gains in their produce shelf life. Up to 10 days in some cases. Additionally PCO can be used in conjunction with chilling to further extend shelf life. 

Users including Del Monte, Wholefoods, Fyffes Bananas  and Kraft Foods report significant improvements in product life using PCO. 

Additionally this technology is highly effective in the dairy sector as it effectively destroys bacteriophage in production. Bacteriophage can effectively destroy entire batches of yoghurt, cheese etc.  

Fish and meat producers have also utilised PCO to great effect. 

Wine producers use PCO technology to remove moulds in their wine cellars. A number of Napa Valley producers have acquired PCO technology and greatly enhanced their yields 

PCO is also used to remove Formaldehyde in the floral industry. Formaldehyde is used to enhance flower life however it is extremely dangerous as an airborne gas. Again PCO breaks down the Formaldehyde into safe water and CO2. 

Figure 4 Example of a wall mounted PCO unit from Airocide

PCO technology is a proven method of air purification. It will deliver extended produce life while suppressing VOCs, viruses, spores, mould and microtoxins. 

If this is of interest to your business and you want to learn more about PCO and other UV technologies please get in touch. 


Organic Produce Wholesaler – Airocide ( 


Produce – Tomato Cooler – Airocide ( 


Coflores Floral Cooler – Airocide ( 


Airocide – Ethylene Gas Removal & Control – Del Monte Case Study (