Part III: Handling
Revised 4/95 -- Author Reviewed 7/99 HIL-800
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.
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:
Use strong, standard sized packages that will adequately protect contents. Do not overpack (or underpack) containers. Palletize containers to minimize handling of individual units. Load containers carefully into transport vehicles.
Postharvest handling is the ultimate stage in the process of producing quality fresh fruits and vegetables; getting these unique packages of water (fresh commodities) to the supper table. Production costs, plus postharvest handling, packaging, cooling, transportation, and marketing costs are the same whether the fruits, vegetables, and flowers that leave the farm are sold and/or consumed or not. Considering such investments, growers should do everything they possibly can to assure the quality maintenance of their commodities; and the satisfaction of those who purchase them. Remember, marketing is extremely competitive.
See Horticulture Information Leaflet 804, Postharvest Handling and Cooling of Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, and Flowers for Small Farms, Part V: References.
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.