THE TYPE of packaging used can account for 15 to 20 per cent of post-harvest loss in fresh produce.
Recommended packaging materials are:
- Perforated plastic bags for pre-packaged vegetables and fruits for the retail market;
- Ventilated plastic crates to transport large volumes of fruits and vegetables;
- Solid black crates and polypropylene (fertiliser type) bags to transport root crops and green unripe fruits.
The disadvantages of using polypropylene bags to transport leafy vegetables and ripe fruits are:
1. The product is crushed due to the large amount placed in the bags.
2. The temperature and humidity in the bags increase and so the product begins to spoil.
Fresh fruits and vegetables spoil quickly at room temperature (27-33C), hence the need to sell them as soon as they are reaped.
They can be stored for longer periods under cold-storage conditions, but that is expensive.
Some recommended storage practices are:
- Store only good-quality crops: clean, mature, free from disease and injury.
- The sooner the fruits and vegetables are stored after harvest, the longer their storage life.
- Do not mix fruits and vegetables of different kinds in the same storeroom, and ensure good ventilation.
- Make sure that the containers and the storage rooms are clean to prevent contamination and spoilage of the produce.
- Store produce such that inspection can occur from time to time to remove spoilt items or produce for sale.
- Cold-storage temperatures vary from 7-15C for most fresh fruits and vegetables, but some root crops and bulbs are stored in drier conditions and at higher temperatures.
Improper transportation methods can result in 10 to 20 per cent post-harvest loss of fresh produce. Therefore, certain minimum requirements are necessary to maintain quality and reduce loss.
- The vehicle must not be overloaded and the load must be stable and well ventilated.
- During transportation, the produce must be protected against sun, rain and dust by covering it with a light-coloured tarpaulin or enclosing it in a refrigerated truck.
- Excessive speeding, sudden stops and jerk starts must be avoided, as they will cause squeezing and bruising of the product.
- Poor roads, uneven surfaces, potholes, winding corners will all greatly increase mechanical damage unless adequate care is taken.
- Loading and unloading of produce must be done with care. Packed produce must not be thrown from any vehicle.
Palletising packaged produce results in the surety that good-quality produce arrives in the marketplace in good condition.
Proper post-harvest management practices will therefore result in reduction of food loss and maintenance of quality.
Quality assurance is, therefore, guaranteed with increased income.
Further information can be had from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) by calling 1-888-ASK-RADA or by logging on to www.rada.gov.jm. Information for the RADA Diaries is compiled and provided by the RADA Communication and Public Relations Department.