Fruit Spoilage Prevention

In order to know how to prevent fruit spoilage one must understand the forces at work that lend to the deterioration and decay of post-harvest fruits and vegetables. The contributing factors include physical or “mechanical” damage, contamination by micro-organisms and the natural decay of the fruit or vegetable.

Mechanical damage
During post-harvest handling of produce, mechanical damage can be inflicted on the fruit or vegetable, causing the enzymes contained in the cell tissues to be released. These enzymes begin to break down the cellular material and the chemical reactions initiated by the enzymes result in the loss of flavor, nutrients, color and the deterioration of texture. Since enzymes are mainly composed of protein, they are sensitive to heat, therefore if temperatures are not controlled during post harvest handling this may cause the produce to deteriorate at an accelerated rate.

Natural decay
From the point of harvest, fruits and vegetables are literally cut off from their source of water, yet they continue to respire, losing water through their skin. This moisture loss is most noticeable in vegetables and fruits that contain large amounts of water, and over time the skin becomes flacid and leathery. Moisture loss may also cause the fruit or vegetable to shrink in size.

Micro-organism contamination
The typical micro-organisms responsible for the contamination and deterioration of fruits and vegetables are bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus), molds (e.g., Rhizopus) and yeasts (e.g., Saccharomyces). Moulds grow from cells called spores that are present in the air. These spores settle and multiply on foods in suitable conditions of moisture and temperatures from 68-104 degrees F. Yeasts are microscopic fungi found in the air and soil, and on the surface of fruit. Yeast cells require oxygen, food, moisture and temperatures from 77-86 degrees F, to grow successfully.

Bacteria are by far the most widespread and potentially dangerous of the micro-organisms found in fresh foods. These minute single-celled organisms can divide into two every 20 minutes under ideal conditions, can develop into millions of organisms within a short time. Bacterial pathogens may not smell, taste or look bad but can cause severe illness. Active over a wide range of temperatures, bacteria can survive and grow at temperatures as low as 41 degrees F.

Fruit Spoilage Intervention

If the risk of food spoilage is to be reduced, conditions which promote spoilage must be limited. Less mechanical handling, reduced exposure to moisture and proper temperature control are three strategies that should be considered in any fruit spoilage prevention program.

The Fog Tunnel gives the fruit and vegetable packer an excellent option for moisture-reduced treatment of micro-organisms, increasing shelf life, preventing fruit spoilage and reducing the very real risk of human pathogen contamination.

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Melon Contamination as Target for New Research Program

BioSafe Systems has entered in an agreement with the University of California at Davis to perform a series of melon contamination studies utilizing BioSafe Systems propriety Fog Tunnel Systems. The three month effort will plan to treat a variety of fruits and vegetables utilizing the FogTunnel in conjunction with BioSafe Systems sanitation and post harvest StorOx 2.0 and SaniDate 5.0, organic listed chemical bactericides and sanitizers.

contaminated melons

Fog Tunnel and SaniDate 5.0 will be tested in Dr. Trevor Suslow’s food safety research program titled “Table to Farm: sustainable Systems based Approach for a safe, healthier Cucumis supply chain in the U.S.”. This research will gather information on efficacy of SaniDate 5.0 applied as an ultra-low volume fog on human health pathogens and decay fungi on both netted and non-netted melon rind. Multiple concentrations of SaniDate 5.0 will be tested (50, 80 and 200 PPM of Peracetic Acid) on following attenuated human health pathogens on Cantaloupes, Honeydew Melons and Water Melons. Preliminary results from the research are expected by summer 2012.

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Preventing Post Harvest Losses

Every year millions of dollars in potential profits are lost due to post-harvest losses from disease, physical injury and the resulting decay of fruits and vegetables. Losses are estimated at 20-40% in developing countries and 10-15% in developed countries, depending on the crop. The factors which contribute to these losses can be reduced with attention to some preventative steps.

Post Harvest Best Practices
Good post-harvest disease prevention practices should actually start before the harvest. A short program (one or two sprays) of fungicide treatments just prior to harvesting utilizing an organic “zero day to entry” broad-spectrum fungicide can dramatically reduce molds and bacteria in the crop. A disease free crop at harvest time will lessen the chances of a post-harvest disease flare up.

tomato shelf lifeOther causes of post-harvest losses include excessive or careless handling and/or poor storage practices. There are growers associations for every grown commodity that collect and share data regarding the best practices for storage and handling that can provide the grower with helpful post-harvest handling guidance and advice.

A Post Harvest Loss Solution
The fruit and vegetable industry has long awaited a post-harvest produce treatment solution that will eliminate post-harvest disease threats and promote longer shelf life. The key to solving both of these challenges has been to introduce a sanitation step without wetting the produce. A wet sanitation step usually requires that the produce be dried before packaging and produce dryers are notorious for harboring bacteria (which can cause re-inoculation of the disease into the produce). The Fog Tunnel provides a “dry” sanitation step by injecting BioSafe System’s organic-approved chemicals into consistent, 4.2 micron fog particles that fill the fogging chamber to treat the fruit or vegetables as they pass through on a conveyor. The produce must achieve maximum surface-area coverage for a minimum of 10 seconds in order to produce effective results.

The positive results that the Fog Tunnel can produce are convincing. In a recent study, an increase in microbial quality and an overall shelf life increase of 3-5 days (in fresh cut collard greens [PDF]) was observed when compared to the untreated control. Fog Tunnel treatments with StorOx were consistently effective in reducing the incidence of grey mold, anthracnose, and other fungal rots on tomatoes [PDF]. At the recommended chemical application rates, no phytoxicity has been observed on a wide range of produce that has been tested.

As discussed and observed, post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables can be reduced prior to harvest as well as post-harvest, through improved handling, storage and storage preparation. The Fog Tunnel treatment can be an integral step in enhancing the quality and increasing the shelf-life of any freshly grown commodity, thus minimizing post-harvest losses.

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