Produce that’s readily available throughout the year, whether imported or locally produced, has resulted in consumers demanding the best quality fruits and vegetables no matter the season or time of year.
One of the biggest barriers to this is the fact that produce is highly perishable and delicate with a relatively short shelf life, which is why proper handling and packaging are necessary to maintain optimal quality in the steps between the field and the customer.
After all, having high-quality produce during production is pointless if it’s reduced due to poor handling, storage, and packing and has degraded by the time it reaches the customer.
The factors that consumers look out for as indicators of quality include appearance, taste, freshness, crispness, nutritional value, and pricing. Ensuring all these factors remain intact means proper maintenance throughout all levels of the supply chain.
Here’s how grower-shippers can ensure that the quality of fresh vegetables and fruits remains at an all-time high, and how Silo can help produce businesses with quality assurance.
Prepare in advance
Due to the brief freshness window of produce, handling speed is important once a fruit or vegetable has reached maturity. Delays for any reason, even for a day or two, can significantly impact quality and devalue the produce. To make sure that everyone moves swiftly, growers must be well prepared to operate in advance.
This means lining up supplies like packaging and containers, as well as having a sufficient amount of labor present. Other preparations include cleaning packaging and grading sheds and confirming that all equipment is in working order.
A high level of management is needed to maintain quality and guard from losses, and for some, ERP solution that oversees your inventory can simplify this process. Consider investing in technologies that make overseeing your operations easier.
Reduce damage wherever possible
Preventing the likelihood of damage ensures that quality fruits and vegetables will remain consistent in their condition. Bruising and broken skin not only appear less appealing to the consumer, but can speed up the rate of decay and allow bacteria to more easily enter.
Care should be taken during handling, and all grading equipment, containers, and bulk bins should be regularly inspected and repaired to prevent further damage.
Some things to do and keep in mind to reduce injury to the produce include:
Being gentle when dumping products and moving them between containers
Placing padding on impact areas, smoothing out any rough or sharp edges that could potentially cause puncturing
Removing any staples or protruding nails on field containers
Telling workers not to have sharp or long fingernails
Avoiding overfilling containers, as stacking them can cause damage
During transportation, drivers should demonstrate care. Any shock absorbers or springs in trucks or trailers should be properly maintained.
Ensure temperatures are consistent for transportation and storage
The quality of fruits and vegetables depends heavily on controlling temperatures. Different types of produce require different temperature ranges. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat or cold can lead to spoilage.
Shippers should always include temperature requirements on Bill of Lading forms and coordinate with truckers so produce is safely transported from one location to another.
Refrigerated trucks and containers are ideal since temperatures can be adjusted to remain within a certain target range. They’re especially useful if you know that the transportation route passes through locations with extreme weather. Forethought is required in instances where produce travels across states or from overseas.
Not only should temperatures be sufficient, but they should also be consistent. Fluctuating temperatures can impact relative humidity, which gauges the amount of water present in the air.
Excess moisture promotes the growth of mold, speeds up rot, and causes produce to become soggy, while low humidity and dry air cause excessive water loss and dehydration, making fruits and vegetables shrivel and wilt. Once produce has reached a weight loss of more than 5%, it’s deemed unsellable due to its undesirable change in texture.
To control humidity, you can use a combination of refrigeration coils to reduce moisture and humidifying systems to add water vapor back into the air if needed.
All storage facilities should have a way of measuring relative humidity.
Enforce sanitary practices
Produce quality is also influenced by cleanliness and sanitation. Microbial contamination in fresh produce can cause serious illness and can occur at any point in the supply chain, between production, handling, packing, processing, and distribution.
Properly maintaining warehouses and packing sheds means cleaning debris, dirt, and sand from facilities and containers. Vehicles used for transportation should be thoroughly washed and sanitized before and after deliveries to prevent transfer and contamination.
The FDA has outlined some tips to mitigate risk in their Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards.
Implement tracking and traceability
While everything should be done to prevent contaminated produce from being shipped to distributors, things may slip through the cracks, and how efficiently you respond can make or break a business relationship. Tracking and traceability play a major role in quality assurance and enhance quality control.
In cases where a product recall is needed, having proper traceability procedures in place makes the process much quicker and more effective. Some produce businesses have ERP solutions to make tracking and traceability more efficient.
Ensure produce quality with Silo
Silo is a produce ERP platform that helps you ensure that the quality fruits and vegetables shipped to your business partners remain consistent.
Silo makes life easier (and more profitable) for growers and shippers of all stripes. Use our Vendor Portal to see everything you’ve sent your distributor, with all of the metrics you’ve always dreamed of, including price per vendor and shipment, all reconciled.
You’ll be able to pay and get paid quicker, effectively controlling profit margins through access to historical data, plus the ability to compare averages, set minimums and maximums, and respond to trends in the market.
With our platform’s tracking and traceability features, you’ll truly know your inventory. Increase visibility and accurately source the details of your produce using our comprehensive lot tracking and produce traceability tools.
Eliminate the guesswork with insights into a lot’s history and current status, as well as its availability, profitability, and quality. And if you need to notify customers and vendors about a recall, all the data you need is just a few clicks away.
Need help with quality assurance? Book a demo with Silo today!