FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
While many homeowners are content allowing a mowing service to handle their lawn issues or the local grocer to supply this week's variety of vegetables - gardeners, growers and consumers alike are affected by produce quality and freshness. Whether we are growing a vegetable crop as a business, pulling from our garden for the next door neighbor or preparing this evening's dinner from nature's bounty, product freshness is paramount.
Surprising to some, fruits and vegetables are still living and are
therefore highly perishable. Similar to humans, these horticultural
commodities breathe as part of a natural biological process known as respiration. This process occurs in all organic materials whereby
carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are broken down into simple end
products. As the produce "breathes" oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor are released. As respiration occurs the produce begins to lose food value, flavor and weight, and tissue deterioration increases.
Having a general understanding of this respiration process is key to
maintaining the condition and quality consumers demand. While most would agree that the best possible quality of any fruit or
vegetable would be at the moment of harvest, it is seldom possible for the consumer to buy at field's edge. So, the next best thing is to
purchase a product that has been handled correctly and with care.
Local produce has the advantage of traveling a much shorter distance to your table with less deterioration from prolonged storage. We need to remember that fresh horticultural commodities are sometimes described as "unique packages of water." In fact, "freshness" is water because water loss is the main cause of fruit deterioration.
Taking it one step further, temperature directly influences all of the
factors involved in the natural ripening process of fruits and
vegetables. Therefore, removing the heat stored in the product (field heat) immediately after harvest and commencing with proper cold storage is essential to ensuring produce quality and freshness for the consumer. In short, the respiration rate of the product is directly related to the temperature of the fruit or vegetable; the higher the temperature, the higher the respiration rate. And, as the respiration rate increases, shelf life decreases and product quality suffers.
Once in the hands of the consumer, proper refrigeration continues to be an important consideration until consumption. All perishable
commodities have an ideal temperature range and shelf life, so if you are not preparing the produce immediately educate yourself to maintain the freshest possible fruits and vegetables