Handle with care: maintaining produce quality from field to packhouse.

Posted by Gopinath Ravi on Apr 14, 2016 11:36:48 PM

Handle with care: maintaining produce quality from field to packhouse 

When is a piece of produce at its best quality and condition within its consumable lifetime? At the orchard, right before it is picked off the tree. To maintain ‘field fresh’ quality from farm to supermarket shelf, produce must be handled gently throughout the packing process. 

All physical contact with produce after the point of picking deteriorates the quality of product presented to consumers. This can reduce the value of the product and reflect negatively on the brand of produce. Gentle handling must be a primary focus when considering the process and layout of a packhouse.

Why is gentle handling such an important part of packhouse machinery design? Fruit aesthetics are an indicator of produce quality - consumers are willing to pay a higher price for a more photogenic piece of fruit. Gentle handling of produce will reduce the risk of infection, improve packhouse yield, and improve customer satisfaction.

It takes a phenomenal amount of time, effort, research and resource to grow high quality fruit. As technology develops and growing techniques are further refined, we are seeing continual improvement in the quality of the end product.

Grower returns are very much affected by the handling capability of a packhouse. Packhouses will experience a decrease in yield when fruit is not of a suitable quality for the premium or export grade. If produce is poorly handled, efforts in the field to grow the best fruit will be wasted, and grower returns will not be commensurate to the resources required to cultivate a high quality batch of produce.

There is an increasing trend for branding of fresh produce in the market, and this brand is often the most valuable asset a packhouse can own. Protecting that brand should be a high priority because the brand is a promise of quality and consistency for the consumer. If the fruit doesn’t meet that quality, the promise is broken and the brand suffers.

Increasing food safety concerns is another important reason for promoting gentle handling of produce. If the produce skin is broken or bruised, fruit nutrients are exposed, which allows microbes present on the surface of the fruit to colonize the area. This results in an increased risk of produce infection. Fruit that is damaged during the packing process is a primary contributor to waste, which reduces the yield and revenue of a packhouse. Reducing the damage experienced by fruit improves the packhouse performance, and improves the food safety quality of fruit distributed.

When you’re considering the handling of your produce, here’s a few things to think about.

The number of transfers affects produce quality 

The number of changes between or even within pieces of equipment can have huge implications for produce quality. The best solutions designers and integrators know how to design transfers out of equipment and will ensure that different pieces are all of the same elevation to handle your crop with care. 

Different materials treat your produce differently 

Cleaning requirements often force providers to use materials which are not always gentle to produce. Pay close attention to how the designers have used materials and physical design to both promote good food hygiene as well as the elimination of potentially damaging handling issues. 

Accuracy of grading means less recycle and eliminates damage

Every time your inspection systems cannot correctly grade a piece of produce, the system recycles this piece of fruit, increasing the number of transfers and impacts it has to endure. Systems with higher accuracy minimize their recycle and lesson the exposure of your produce to potentially harmful recycle. 

Your pack type has a role to play in protecting your crop 

Consider how your pack types promote good fruit storage during transit to the consumer. Often produce leaves the packhouse in good condition only to be rejected at the retail end. Fruit which rubs or bang together during shipping can often develop issues when they arrive for retail sale. 

Speed vs gentleness in pack filling 

Produce type, grade and retail requirements will determine your packing method. High-speed automatic volume fillers are often fine for durable produce or second class fruit, with high-value top grade fruit requiring more care. There is no single best process and your solutions provider should have a number of options to recommend, depending on your specific varieties. 

Compac products and packhouse layouts are designed to balance the gentle handling requirements of produce, while ensuring the highest and most efficient throughput possible. The critical design considerations implemented include reducing the number and severity of produce impacts by adding cushioning, which redistributes impact pressure over a larger area of fruit, and reducing the number of drops and effective drop heights across the machine. By choosing Compac, you can ensure that the fruits of your labor are not wasted.

 

Topics: Gentle Handling

Gopinath Ravi

Written by Gopinath Ravi

Product Manager: Sorter Systems