Exploring the world of agriculture is no easy task. From selecting crops to planting seeds and harvesting ripe produce, everything is a challenge. That’s why local farmers are so particular about the quality of their harvest. This is where post-harvest handling comes in. Post-harvest handling is a practice that minimizes product losses due to spoilage, shrinkage, physical damage, and microbial concerns. These include cleaning the produce, sorting, packaging, cooling, refrigeration, and distribution. As a crop grower, understanding post-harvest handling practices is essential to deliver high-quality and safe produce right to your customer’s doorstep. Otherwise, your fruits and vegetables will easily get spoiled and shrunk, leading to losses.
To prevent post-harvest losses, farmers and growers must be fast enough to employ strict preventive measures to harvest produce and distribute them to consumers while keeping it as fresh as possible at the same time. If you need help maximizing your crop’s profitability, you may check out Fruit Growers post harvest technology or other similar services in your area. You can also apply the following post-harvest care tips to prolong the shelf-life and quality of your home produce.
1. Clean And Sort Your Produce
The first step to post-harvest care and handling is the cleaning and sorting of the harvested produce. Cleaning is a crucial step because it helps eliminate all the microorganisms and dirt that can cause food spoilage. On the other hand, sorting identifies and removes produce that doesn’t meet the standards because of size discrepancies, physical damage, maturity, and more. The sorting process often involves checking common issues, such as:
- Contaminated Produce: Sorting eliminates produce contaminated with pests, dirt, mud, and other visible foreign matter.
- Unusable Produce: Sorting removes produce that can no longer be used due to physical damage, rendering it unsellable in commerce.
- Size/Shape Discrepancies: Sorting eliminates produce that is too small, too heavy, and irregularly shaped to maintain consistency and uniformity.
- Senescence: Sorting removes produce that shows early signs of spoilage and deterioration.
- Insect Damage: Sorting gets rid of produce with visible insect marks, such as bites, punctures, and discoloration.
- Produce With Damaged Skin: Sorting removes produce with broken or open skin because it encourages microbial growth, accelerating spoilage.
Furthermore, you may use a food-grade cleaning solution and sanitizing agent to kill unwanted microorganisms that can cause foodborne illnesses.
2. Prevent Inflicting Injuries On Your Produce
When your produce has cracks or cuts, it allows disease-causing microbes to enter, contaminating the food. To prevent this, make sure your knives aren’t only sharp but also clean. This will reduce the risk of contamination and early spoilage. In addition, be careful when moving your produce from one location to another. Make sure they don’t get compressed and overloaded. This can break the skin and expose the flesh of your produce, leaving it open for microbes to attack. Furthermore, be gentle when you unload your fruits and vegetables. Never try to throw them onto your sinks and tables to prevent bruising. Otherwise, you’ll accelerate the maturity and spoilage process on that bruised part.
3. Check The Quality Of Your Water
Before washing your fruits and vegetables, it’s ideal to check the quality of your water. You can use test strips, such as litmus, pH paper, or chlorine strips, to evaluate your tap water. If you have a water tank at home, make sure to replace the water regularly and clean its insides to ensure the cleanliness of the water you use. You can also add sanitizing agents to make sure your water is clean and free from microorganisms, such as bleach, sodium hydrochloride, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide. However, only use small amounts to keep your health in check. You can use these cleaning solutions on both organic and non-organic produce. In this way, you can be sure that preventing cross-contamination of product from one produce to another.
4. Store Your Produce Properly
Storage is an important part of post-harvest handling. It can affect the time it takes for fruits and vegetables to spoil. When fruits and vegetables are brought indoors, their moisture content decreases rapidly. To prevent this, you’ll need to store them in a cool and dark place—inside the refrigerator. You can also keep them in your basement or other unheated areas of your home. However, keep in mind that not all kinds of produce may benefit from cool and dark storage conditions. For example, storing tomatoes inside the fridge may speed up their decline. Instead, store them at room temperature with a relative humidity of 85%. To optimize your fridge’s humidity, lightly spray some water, and don’t forget to wrap up your leafy greens with moistened paper towels to maintain their humidity.
Post-harvest care and handling are crucial to maintaining the safety and quality of fruits and vegetables after harvest. It also prolongs their shelf-life, helping people reduce food waste due to food spoilage. You can apply the tips above to practice post-harvest care in the comfort of your own kitchen.