What draws consumers to fresh produce is also what makes it vulnerable to contamination, discoloration, desiccation, textural changes and nutritional losses. Conventional food processing methods help extend the shelf life of fresh goods, but may also introduce chemical preservatives that a growing number of consumers wish to avoid. By implementing the use of climate control solutions from the time workers harvest produce to the time grocers place it on their shelves, the goods will retain their quality in a more organic and marketable fashion.
The Importance of Using Temporary Climate Control to Preserve Produce
In 2008, fresh produce brought in $12 billion in annual sales. From 1996 to 2006, however, the U.S. experienced 72 food-borne illness outbreaks related to produce. Investigators traced a quarter of the illnesses to fresh-cut produce. As the market for fresh fruits and vegetables continues to grow, producers, suppliers and distributors face the challenge of preserving the safety of the increasing volume of produce grown. To protect the public, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration created the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011. The act, along with other guides, outlines standards designed to prevent food safety problems, making the industry more proactive instead of reactive. The standards include the following considerations:
Storage temperatures have one of the greatest roles in produce safety and quality. Before a farm ships goods, it must consider field temperatures. If the temperature on the field is too warm to safely store and preserve harvested produce, a producer will need to use temporary climate control technologies to protect the goods from the elements. Doing so helps naturally preserve the produce and prepares it for processing and transportation.
After workers pick them, fruits and vegetables are still “alive,” as they continue to experience respiration, a chemical process. Cut produce uses stored carbohydrates to continue the process. When temperatures are too warm or ventilation is poor, respiration rates in produce increases, depleting stored carbohydrates and water faster. The depleting of carbohydrates leads to decay. Therefore, it is not enough to keep produce cool. Climate control solutions must also ensure proper ventilation.
Environmental control is also essential to preventing the growth of food-borne pathogens, which flourish in warmer temperatures. From fields to retail establishments, a wide variety of mechanisms can contaminate produce with microbial pathogens. Strict sanitation controls are vital to preventing outbreaks, while cool temperatures halt microbial growth and prevent decay.
When produce respires in an area with poor ventilation, oxygen levels decrease as carbon dioxide and ethylene levels increase. In nature, ethylene gases cause produce to ripen. When ethylene levels increase because of poor ventilation or warm temperatures, produce rots faster and is vulnerable to decay and mold.
Conversely, the faster air moves over produce, the faster it loses its water content. Climate control solutions promote airflow rate that remove heat caused by respiration without desiccating produce.
Relative humidity levels also contribute to produce respiration rates. When conditions are too dry, produce desiccates, causing it to lose weight, wilt and become vulnerable to microbial growth. To prevent water losses from fresh produce and maximize its life, storage areas should have relative humidity levels of 90 to 95 percent, depending on the good stored.
Getting produce from the farm to table takes a lot of work, but storing it in safe conditions doesn’t have to be. Polygon’s temporary climate control technologies are ideal for all stages of the production process, from the time workers pick the produce to the time the goods reach their final destination. Polygon’s engineers custom-design the solutions for your needs, allowing you to adjust humidity, ventilation and temperatures based on the type of produced stored to maximize its life, reduce preservative use and promote public safety. Get in touch with a specialist to learn how climate control solutions can improve the quality of your fresh produce and mitigate financial losses.