Post Harvest Handling

Harvested vegetables are "living things" which carry on the process of respiration and other chemical conversions. How you handle your produce after harvest will directly affect freshness and flavor, which bring repeat sales and premium prices. High temperatures and moisture loss are the biggest post harvest concerns that reduce quality. Produce needs to be cooled immediately after harvest to remove "field heat" and slow the rate of respiration. When possible, harvest produce at the coolest times of the day (usually early mornings) and keep it out of direct sunlight. Precooling methods to bring produce temperatures to recommended storage conditions range from simple refrigerated rooms to elaborate and expensive vacuum cooling systems. Proper storage temperature and relative humidity will maximize fresh vegetable storage life. See Table 16 for commodity-specific postharvest handling and storage recommendations.

To prevent the spread of decay organisms and minimize post harvest losses, freshly harvested vegetables should be inspected for injury and disease (injured and diseased vegetables should be culled) and washed to remove bacteria. Wash water temperature should be about the temperature of the harvested vegetables to prevent bacteria from being absorbed into the tissue. Water used to wash produce should meet the EPA Drinking Water Standard. Additionally, chlorine added to the wash water will destroy bacteria on the surface of the vegetables. Concentration of the chlorine is dependent on the crop type and sensitivity, but wash water pH should be maintained at 6.0 to 7.0 to ensure maximum chlorine activity and cleaned regularly to prevent soil and dirt buildup. However, chlorine cannot stop established infections or prevent infections in injured fruit. Use chlorine (Agclor 310 or Decco 240) as a wash water treatment.