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The Path to Reducing Fresh Produce Losses in Harvest & Post-Harvest

Posted by: Scott Trimble
Nov. 6, 2019

One third of food produced is either lost or wasted. According to FAO, globally there is more loss of food in the supply chain before it reaches markets than due to food waste by consumers. It is to the benefit of all of the stakeholders—farmers, handlers, processors, traders and governments - to work on avoiding harvest and post-harvest losses as a solution to producing food for a growing population. As you'll see, state-of-the-art sensors and accessible data analysis are a key contributor to solving these food problems.

food loss vs food waste

Figure 1: Food loss and waste, according to FAO. (Image credits: http://www.fao.org/platform-food-loss-waste/en/)

Food Loss vs. Food Waste

Food loss is the reduction in quantity and quality of food in the production and supply chain from producers to the market. Food waste, on the other hand, happens at the market and consumer level when food is not purchased, when it is thrown away before it reaches the table, or when it remains untouched in the consumer's home (see Figure 1).

When food is lost or wasted, it does not just produce a financial impact, but also negatively effects other valuable resources such as land, water, and energy used to produce the food. As agriculture is a major polluter, one-third of pollution from this sector satisfies no real purpose. Food waste alone is estimated to contribute 8% of global carbon emissions, and this doesn’t cover emissions due to food loss!

food loss by region

Figure 2: Food lost in various stages of supply change around the world. (Image credits https://sustainablefoodlab.org/initiatives/food-loss-and-waste/)

Food loss occurs in both developed and developing countries, though the amounts can differ and range from 17-39%, respectively (See Figure 2). This is exponentially regrettable, considering how much of the world's population lacks food security. Fruits and vegetables, along with meat, are the important components that provide essential nutrients and vitamins which could prevent malnutrition.

Fresh produce also happens to be more prone to food loss and food waste, as it is perishable. 56% of vegetables and 61% of fruits are wasted after harvest (See figure 3). Fresh produce is lost at pre-harvest, harvest, and post-harvest stages for various reasons.

Tackling Food Loss Pre-Harvest

Pre-harvest causes of food loss can be due to environmental conditions and agricultural practices. There are well established practices for each crop that can minimize loss and improve yield, especially by using precision farming techniques and tools.

It is food loss at the harvest and post-harvest stages that we need to focus on, as it has not received adequate attention thus far.

Preventing Food Loss During Harvest

The two main contributors to loss of food during harvest are poorly timed harvest time and inadequate harvest methods.

Harvest Time

Getting the time of harvest right is very important. Timing also impacts the post-harvest quality of fresh produce and storage. Produce should be harvested only when it is ready, so that it has the right appearance, taste, and quality, as immature produce can be inferior in desired attributes. However, it needs to be harvested early enough so that there is time to transport the fresh perishable produce to market. Technologies are stepping in to help with exactly this.

We (Felix Instruments) have created produce quality meters which farmers and horticulturists use to help decide if their produce is ready for harvest. Dry matter content, one of the many metrics that can be used to judge fruit maturity, can not only be a good indicator of harvest time, but also of post-harvest quality and taste. However, many vegetables are ready before they reach maturity. So, in their case, skin colour, size, and firmness fix harvest time and can differ from crop to crop.

The three produce quality meters from Felix Instruments are small hand-held devices. They use state-of-the-art NIR (near infrared) technology and accompanying software to identifying mature fruits. The devices have WiFi and besides helping to predict harvest time, these tools can also monitor produce quality during transport and storage.

F-750 Produce Quality Meter can estimate dry matter, Total Soluble Solids (TSS or brix), titratable acidity, and external and internal colour. It is useful for a wide range of fruits and vegetables which are harvested at maturity, such as peppers, paprika, tomatoes, pumpkin, etc. The measurements are non-destructive and take only a few seconds, so many plants can be tested in a day.

F-751 Avocado Quality Meter, measures dry matter similar to the F-750 but is designed exclusively for avocados.

F-751 Mango Quality Meter, measures dry matter and Brix and is calibrated for many popular mango varieties.

Harvest Methods

Harvest methods can influence the post-harvest quality of produce because of the possibility that fruits can get damaged. Mechanical injury through surface abrasions causing water loss, while bruising can trigger physiological damage through increased ethylene production that quickens the process of ripening and decay, affecting storage time and producing damaged fruits and vegetables.

wasted crop land

Figure 3: a) The percent of harvested cropland wasted; b) Percent of the crop in each category wasted, Conrad et al. 2018 ( Image credits: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0195405).

Minimizing Post-Harvest Food Loss

There is a 16-36% post-harvest loss of fruits every year due to mechanical, microbial, and physiological causes. There are various stages after harvest where things can go wrong, such as handling, storage, packing, or transportation.

  • Handling: Processing involves washing, trimming, and packaging vegetables and fruits to clean them, remove diseased or damaged parts, and improve appearance.
  • Grading: Fresh produce is sorted according to their shape, size, and colour into different grades. There is considerable loss of produce at this stage since many fruits and vegetables are rejected for being “ugly.” Government and supermarket policies, as well as consumer awareness, could end food loss at this stage.
  • Packaging: Good protective packing material can prevent mechanical and physiological damage during transport and storage. Produce can then retain appearance, taste, and freshness.
  • Storage and Ripening: Precooling can reduce up to 6% loss in weight during storage of both fruits and vegetables. Many climacteric fruits like apples are harvested before ripening, which happens during storage in ripening rooms. Temperature, humidity, and levels of oxygen(O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and ethylene are closely monitored regularly to provide the best conditions to extend storage and for proper ripening.

Small handheld tools can be used in simple, as well as sophisticated, storage facilities to collect data on environmental conditions. By improving storage, quality of produce can be maintained and storage time extended. Both measures can go a long way in preventing food loss.

  • F-920 Check It, measures relative humidity, CO2, and O2 from 0-100% in six seconds. It is used in storage facilities, ripening rooms, shipping containers, packaging lines, and retailers.
  • F-940 Store It, measures and analyses ethylene, CO2, and O2 levels for optimal storage of produce.
  • F-950 Three Gas Analyzer, monitors levels of ethylene, CO2, and O2. It can help producers and suppliers maintain optimal conditions at every phase of the supply chain to guarantee high produce quality.
  • F-960 Ripen It! Gas Analyzer, analyses the levels of ethylene, CO2, and O2 simultaneously within 30 seconds for quick decision making during the ripening process.

Solutions

Technology can help in various stages of the supply chain. It is notable that developed countries have less food loss through the use of precision instruments, which can be used in the supply chain to collect information on produce and monitor them. Technology alone cannot, however, solve all the problems of food loss in post-harvest stages. Government action is needed to fix infrastructure. Supermarkets can help by relaxing their stringent specification on the appearance of the produce. Better adoption in developing countries should also be promoted by international organisations. By preventing food loss and waste, we can protect resources and the environment by reducing the demand for food production inthe first place.

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Vijayalaxmi Kinhal
Science Writer, CID Bio-Science
Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Science, B.Sc Agriculture

Source

Conrad, Z, Niles M.T, Neher, D.A, Roy, E.D, Tichenor, N.E, & Jahns, L. (2018) Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0195405. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0195405

FAO. Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/platform-food-loss-waste/food-loss/definition/en/

FAO. Food Loss and Food Waste. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

FAO. (1989).Prevention of post-harvest food losses fruits, vegetables and root crops a training manual. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/T0073E/T0073E01.htm

Gabbatiss, J. (2018, February 21). Fruit and vegetable waste from farms ‘could feed population of Birmingham or Manchester for a year’, says environmental charity. Retrieved from
https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/fruit-vegetables-food-waste-farms-uk-birmingham-manchester-feedback-a8220171.html

Maiti, R., Thakur, A.K., Gupta, A. l & Debashis, M. (2018). Post harvest management of agricultural produce. In book: Research Trends in Bioresource Management and Technology, Publisher: American Academic Press, USA, pp.137-166. Retrieved fromhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/330845976_POST_HARVEST_MANAGEMENT_OF_AGRICULTURAL_PRODUCE

Ramjan, M., & Ansari, M.T. (2018). Factors affecting of fruits, vegetables and its
Quality. Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies 2018; 6(6): 16-18. Retrieved from http://www.plantsjournal.com/archives/2018/vol6issue6/PartA/6-5-15-686.pdf

Yahaya, S.M., & Mardiyya, A.Y. (2019). Review of Post-Harvest Losses of Fruits and Vegetables. Biomedical Journal of Scientific & Technical Research.DOI: 10.26717/BJSTR.2019.13.002448.
https://biomedres.us/pdfs/BJSTR.MS.ID.002448.pdf


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Scott Trimble

Marketing Director

strimble@cid-inc.com