The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may have some truth to it, though with improved technology being developed in Ithaca, apple season might mean all year-round now.?

Doctor Chris Watkins, a professor of horticulture and director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, has been a key player in learning about how to keep apples fresh year-round. The answer: Controlled Atmosphere (CA) technology. ?

“Controlled atmosphere storage technology is a simple concept because what we’re trying to do is put the apples to sleep, reduce the rate of metabolism,” Watkins said. “So, instead of a sports car, we’ve got a sedan. So, we’re bringing the oxygen levels down. Typically, people are breathing about 21 percent oxygen. So, typically in a controlled atmosphere, the oxygen levels are around two percent.”

According to Watkins, this process essentially slows down the production of the hormone ethylene, which makes fruit ripe. Robert Smock, a researcher at Cornell University’s pomology department first observed the technology when he visited Cambridge University. He began his own experiments with it and by the 1950s, developed some of the first CA rooms in the United States. Advancements in CA technology have helped determine specific attributes of what causes the apples to thrive in these climates, according to Watkins.?

“We have a new technology called Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere,” Watkins said. “What we do there is we measure the stress on an apple. As we lower the oxygen levels, it gets to a point where the apple starts to show stress. We can measure that and bring the oxygen levels up a little higher than that. [...] When Bob Smock first did his original work at Cornell, [the apple industry] was very crude.”

Watkins said now, orchards have systems that can measure oxygen and carbon dioxide, which enables the owners to keep the atmospheres around the apples constant.?

“Technology has helped move what we can do with apples,” he said.?

The only problem with the Controlled Atmosphere technology is that if the apples receive oxygen and carbon dioxide in the wrong amounts, they can start to ferment and deteriorate. Watkins gave the example of Macintosh apples as a way of showing just how this technology determines the right climate for apples to exist without ripening.

“A very good example is the Macintosh, which needs a lot of carbon dioxide in the air,” Watkins said. “After a low period of carbon dioxide for about six weeks we increase that level between three and five percent. And we keep the oxygen levels around two percent. Some apples we can use much lower oxygens and others we can’t because of the thickness of the stem affects the amount of oxygen that goes through the apple of the stem.”

Watkins said the thickness of the stem can actually determine how much air is capable of flowing in and out of the apple.?

Keeping apples fresh longer greatly eases marketing and sales burdens on the apple industry, according to Watkins, who said that selling all apples only between September and December, when they are in season and ripe, would be chaos. Then, people would have to wait for the following autumn for apples to come back into season.?

According to Medical News Today, a study authored by Matthew Davis, Ph.D. at the University of Michigan School of Nursing undertook the age-old proverb and exposed it to be false. The findings from the study show that apple eaters were more likely to avoid prescriptions than a visit to the doctor.?

“The study found that apple eaters were more likely to keep the doctor away, but this was before adjusting for the socio-demographic and health characteristics of the survey respondents -- 39.0% of apple-eaters avoided more than one yearly doctor visit, compared with 33.9% of non-apple eaters. The daily apple eaters were also more likely to successfully avoid prescription medication use (47.7% versus 41.8%)? and this difference survived statistical analysis.”

So while these innovations make the apple a year-round treat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one a day keeps the doctor away. But they might help you stay away from the pharmacist.

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