Getting healthy produce from a farm to the market involves good timing and strict control of the transportation and storage environments throughout the process. While several factors come into play when maintaining produce quality, the value chain’s effectiveness and efficiency as they relate to environmental controls are key. By being aware of the factors that affect the quality of produce during transport, you can implement techniques that prevent large financial losses, such as humidity control for produce.
Considerations for Maintaining Quality Produce during Transport
Before it leaves the packing facility, produce must be able to withstand the handling it must endure during the transportation process. When shipping produce a great distance, for example, this might mean transporting goods that are not quite mature, as well as ensuring that produce is free of conditions that predispose it to quality losses.
Temperature is one of the greatest factors that influence produce quality. Markedly low temperatures lead to freezing or chilling injuries. High temperatures decrease a good’s quality, increase water losses and cause premature softening.
Produce remain “alive” after a harvest by means of respiration, when carbohydrates and oxygen produce water, carbon dioxide and heat. When temperatures are too high, respiration rates increase by up to a factor of five for every 10°C increase above the recommended level, depleting stored carbohydrates. Many berries, for example, have a shelf life of one day at 20°C, but last up to seven days at 0°C. It is a good idea to store produce at the lowest recommended storage temperature for as long as possible.
Before shipping produce, as producer must also consider the field temperature of goods before shipping them. In general, produce must be cooled as soon as possible after a harvest, as field conditions are generally too warm for food storage. To ensure the success of the transported goods, a wise driver becomes aware of the initial produce temperature and makes changes to the refrigeration system, as needed.
Humidity Control for Produce
The optimal environment has relative humidity levels between 90 and 95 percent for most types of produce. When humidity levels are too low, produce experiences water losses that lead to lower weights, wilting and shriveling. Since water losses weaken plant cells, affected produce are more vulnerable to decay and fungal growth.
In general, refrigerated trailers do not allow a driver to control relative humidity levels. Similarly, produce transported in an airplane is exposed to relative humidity levels of 10 percent or less. To slow moisture losses and preserve fruits and vegetables in such scenarios, producers must wax produce or use special packaging materials to maintain the integrity of the goods.
As produce respires in an enclosed container, ethylene and CO2 levels increase as oxygen decreases. In many instances, highway trailers leak enough air to prevent damage caused by a buildup of CO2. Marine containers, however, may require humidity control for produce that allows an operator to adjust ventilation rates based on CO2 levels.
Produce has varying requirements regarding storage temperatures and relative humidity levels. When one type of produce is transported with goods that require different storage requirements, the load’s quality might become compromised in as little as three days.
Pairing produce with the right type of packaging is essential to its successful transportation. Adequate packaging promotes respiration, reduces water losses and prevents injuries to the agricultural goods during transit.
During the transportation process, produce is most vulnerable to quality losses when sits in cargo bays, distribution facilities, docks and other holding facilities that don’t have controlled environments. In such instances, humidity control for produce is best addressed with the use of temporary climate control solutions, which Polygon custom designs. These systems allow you to adjust temperatures, humidity and ventilation levels based on the type of produce held to maintain its quality, maximize its life and, most importantly, ensure consumer safety. Get in touch with Polygon today to learn more about the benefits of humidity control solutions for your facility.
[Photo from rick via CC License 2.0]