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Student research to improve shelf-life of fruit dessert

Posted 12 March 2015

Becca with one of her tarts, prior to adding the strawberries

Research being conducted by a final year Harper Adams University student will potentially extend the shelf-life of a fruit dessert stocked by a leading supermarket.

23-year-old Becca Jarvis is looking at effective ways to prolong the shelf-life of a strawberry and custard tart, by preventing the fruit from leaching moisture into the pastry.

To do this, she is trialling different coatings and layers, before conducting taste tests with fellow students and making observations during an eight-day period.

Becca who studies BSc (Hons) Food, Nutrition and Well-being is completing the research for her dissertation project. She said: “Whilst on placement with a chilled dessert manufacturers, it became apparent that the strawberry tart that they produce has a limited shelf-life of only three days.

“This means that the product must be transported immediately so it can be on the shelves as quickly as possible. Customer feedback had also shown that shoppers were finding the pastry to be soggy.

“A literature review highlighted possible ways to retain moisture within fruit, and for my particular research, I have chosen to investigate the effect of adding either an extra ingredient or layer to the tart.”

For her experiments, Becca trialled three strawberry coating methods – carnauba wax, trehalose and chitosan powder; and three different layers between the pastry and custard – beeswax, dark chocolate and hardened sugar syrup.

These were then taste tested using a panel of 20 university students, to assess the effect of the different ingredients and layers on the taste.

Becca also conducted her own daily observations during an eight-day period, to assess the visual appearance, water activity on the pastry, texture of the pastry, texture of the custard and firmness of the strawberries.

Finally, an additive questionnaire was completed by members of the general public, including school children, to gauge potential reactions to the use of extra ingredients in the tart.

Becca, from Okehampton in Devon, said:  “I’m currently analysing the results, but it would appear that using layers is most effective as it acts as a barrier to protect the pastry, with chocolate being the most popular during the taste tests.

“Once I have produced my results, they will hopefully be used by the manufacturers to extend the shelf-life, meaning that there will be more flexibility during the distribution phase, and less waste.”

Following the completion of her final exams, Becca will be re-joining her placement employer in a graduate role as a process technologist.  She hopes to build a career within dessert manufacturing, building on her keen interest in baking.

Aside from her studies, she runs a part-time bakery business, creating celebration cakes. She also enjoys fitness, is a volunteer at the university gym and is training towards a 10Km run in May.

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