Researcher in the Spotlight – Konstantinos Papoutsis

Kostas Papoutsis is an Associate Senior Lecturer and a new member of the Department of Plant Breeding, SLU Alnarp. His research focuses on developing sustainable, environmentally and human-friendly postharvest treatments, prolonging the commercial and nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables. Would you like to know more? Read the interview below!

What is currently at the top of your research agenda?

It is well known that fruit and vegetable consumption is beneficial for human health. However, fruit and vegetable commercial and nutritional quality can decline after harvest impacting different stakeholders involved in the supply chain of fresh produce, such as farmers, retailers, consumers, etc. Up to 50% of fresh fruits and vegetables can be lost and wasted during postharvest storage, impacting food security, society, the economy, and the environment. Loss and waste of fruits and vegetables can be due to several factors, including the active metabolism of fresh produce, inappropriate storage conditions and handling, pathogens, etc. Fruits and vegetables are also processed for the production of juices, jams, frozen food products, etc. During fruit and vegetable processing, a large amount of residues are generated (up to 40%), which can be an excellent source of phytochemicals. The valorisation of these residues can reduce the environmental impact and add value to this waste. My research interests involve the development of sustainable environmentally and human-friendly postharvest treatments to prolong the commercial and nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables. I am also interested in the valorisation of fruit and vegetable waste for the recovery of phytochemicals that can be utilised by the food, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.   

Tell us about your latest publication.

My last two publications are review papers, one published in 2021 and the other in 2023. One is about environmentally and human-friendly pretreatments for minimising postharvest carrot losses and waste caused by fungi and developing physiological disorders. This review was produced in collaboration with Prof. Merete Edelenbos from Aarhus University in Denmark.

The second and most recent one is about the sustainable postharvest treatments that can be applied for minimising the development of physiological disorders in asparagus, hence, maintaining asparagus postharvest quality.

What led you to your particular field of research?

I have been interested in the postharvest physiology of fruits and vegetables since the last year of my Bachelor’s. During this time, I realised that fruit and vegetable commercial and nutritional quality can decline after harvest due to the active metabolism of fresh produce and also due to external parameters such as storage conditions, pathogens, inappropriate handling etc. During my PhD, I expanded my research interests after realising that huge amounts of fruit and vegetable waste are generated after harvest and can be an excellent source of phytochemicals valorised by different industries adding value to this waste. 

What are the implications of your research for society?

Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost and wasted along the supply chain. This has a big impact on food security, the economy, society, and the environment. Fruit and vegetable waste is an excellent source of phytochemicals that can be valorised by the food and agricultural, and pharmaceutical industries. Also, currently, there is an increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. To address this demand, different measures need to be taken, including appropriate handling of fresh produce, appropriate storage conditions and packaging, sustainable treatments that maintain fresh produce quality, political actions for affordable prices, and educating consumers about their involvement in fresh produce waste generation.

Finally, let´s say you have unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?

If I had unlimited research funding, I would continue to work on the reduction of fruit and vegetable loss and waste by investigating alternatives to conventional postharvest methods for the maintenance of fruit and vegetable quality and valorising the waste generated along the supply chain using a biorefinery approach.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Kostas! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future path!

(Main photo: personal archive)