With more than 28 million tons produced in North-West Europe in 2017, potato is one of the main food crops in the world. In order to ensure year-round availability, potatoes often spend more time in storage than they do in the field. Therefore, maintaining optimal storage conditions is crucial in preventing the development of diseases, as well as sprouting and cold-induced sweetening of the potato tubers. Project partner Cranfield University is working on the identification of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) produced by potato tubers during storage. The main objective of this study is to identify those VOCs that are associated with potato rots, sprouting and sweetening, and could be used as indicators in an early detection system for storage management.
The first phase of the study is at lab scale, using air samples from boxes filled with potatoes and stored in conditions that imitate the commercial storage conditions. The analysis of these air samples has resulted in the identification of a long list of compounds that are produced during potato storage. The next challenging part is now focusing on linking the presence of individual VOCs to the action of fungi and bacteria and the physiological processes that lead to sprouting and cold-induced sweetening. This information will then be used to set the parameters of the real-time interactive storage sensor system that is being developed in the QCAP project, in order to be able to identify what problems might be about to occur in the storage facility based on the VOCs that are detected.
Once a prototype of the new sensor system has been developed, it will be validated at Cranfield, first by being installed in one of their lab-based cold storage rooms, and subsequently at a commercial potato storage facility. The system validation will include the collection and analysis of air samples from the same room. This will ensure that the new sensor can detect the same VOCs and at the levels that are detected by the more sophisticated lab equipment.