Postharvest Handling and Cooling of Fresh Fruits,
Vegetables, and Flowers for Small Farms

Part III: Handling

Revised 4/95 -- Author Reviewed 7/99 HIL-800

L. G. Wilson, Extension Postharvest Horticulturist
M. D. Boyette, Extension Biological & Agricultural Engineer
E. A. Estes, Extension Agricultural & Resource Economist
Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

The most important key to quality maintenance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers is careful handling; Tender Loving Care! Symptoms of injuries incurred during harvesting, handling, grading, and packaging usually are not evident until the products reach retail or consumer levels; too late to do anything about your quality image. Bruises and other mechanical damage not only detract from the appearance of the product, but are good avenues of entrance for decay organisms.

Postharvest rots are more prevalent in fruits and vegetables that are bruised or otherwise damaged than in undamaged products. For instance, decay has been shown to be greater in bruised areas of apples than in unbruised areas. Severely bruised prunes developed 25% decay, whereas unbruised prunes developed 1.3% during storage. Mechanical damage also allows increased moisture loss. The rate of moisture loss may be increased by as much as 400% by a single bad bruise on an apple. Skinned potatoes may lose three to four times as much weight as non-skinned potatoes.

Postharvest disease management starts in the field and continues throughout harvesting, handling, and marketing. Sanitation is critical because decayed debris is an excellent source of inoculation. Harvesting buckets, packing lines, and storage areas should be frequently cleaned up and sanitized.

No postharvest treatments or miracle chemical exist which can overcome inferior quality resulting from poor production practices or improper handling.

Most fruit and vegetable postharvest losses can be related to improper, even abusive, postharvest handling practices. "Quality" and "condition" of fresh fruits and vegetables are major factors in market inspectors' determination of grades and standards. "Bruising" is a major component of these factors.

Damage Reduction Recommendations

The key to damage reduction is simply TLC, tender loving care. Fresh commodities should be seen and not heard. Keep this in mind as you design and implement postharvest handling facilities and practices. Sound recommendations should include the following: