Vegetable and fruit rot is a common problem along the produce supply chain. Rot can occur at any stage, from farm to table, and is caused by various factors. While some degree of spoilage is inevitable, there are steps you can take to minimize its occurrence and severity.
Here’s what you need to know about produce rot, as well as how to manage it to prevent it from significantly affecting your produce business. Check out also how Silo can help you improve your company’s tracking and traceability process.
How rotten fruit and vegetables occur in the supply chain
Produce rot is a type of spoilage that’s caused by a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. These microorganisms break down the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, leading to their decay.
The risk of produce rot is present throughout all levels of the supply chain, from production to consumption. There are many factors that can contribute to its prevalence, including certain ways that a business conducts its operations that may encourage the presence of pathogens, pests, and physiological problems.
Poor storage conditions, such as high humidity or temperature, can speed up spoilage and allow microorganisms a breeding ground to thrive. Warehouses and refrigeration facilities may also not be sanitized very frequently, and could be prone to infestation by pests like insects or rodents.
Transportation and handling
Another common cause of rotten fruit and vegetables is produce being bruised or damaged during handling or transportation, which creates an entry point for microorganisms to invade. Freight trucks could also lack adequate ventilation, or not be cleaned out after every use. Workers are another contributing factor, as they may not practice sufficient personal hygiene before handling.
If produce is not properly washed before packaging, bacteria that’s present could fester beneath the surface, especially when entrapped in cling film. Dirty containers that produce is packaged and shipped within also leads to contamination and rot.
The main enemy of produce is time. Delays in getting produce from the field to the shelf (for example, due to bad weather) lead to rot. In the produce industry, this means significant monetary loss.
How to prevent rotten vegetables and fruit
Rot prevention and management are important for maintaining food safety and quality. It’s important to tailor prevention and management strategies to the specific needs of each commodity, as each fruit and vegetable has different storage, shipping, and handling requirements. Regardless, here are some general guidelines for preventing spoilage.
To prevent spoilage, it’s important to practice good sanitation throughout all levels of the produce supply chain. This includes sanitizing all equipment and vehicles on a regular basis, storing produce in clean and dry conditions, and ensuring that all employees practice basic personal hygiene, such as washing their hands.
Ensure that the water you’re washing produce with is clean, and that all packaging is sterile.
Sufficient storage conditions
Good storage conditions should be maintained down the supply chain, from farm to store, to prevent rotten produce. This means keeping temperature and humidity at optimal levels to prevent microorganisms from thriving.
Fruits and vegetables should be properly washed before packaging to remove any bacteria that could accelerate the rate of spoilage.
Workers should inspect produce for signs of damage or decay on a consistent basis. Damaged or bruised produce should be culled before it has a chance to enter the supply chain.
Discarding fruits and vegetables can seem wasteful, but it's best to do so if you suspect they've gone bad to avoid the risk of recall and being held liable for foodborne illness. In most cases, you can repurpose the produce so it doesn’t necessarily have to go to waste.
The consequences of produce spoilage
Having a business model that depends on the maintained quality of perishable goods can be difficult. The consequences of vegetable and fruit rot are significant for both businesses and participants along the supply chain, from producers, processors, retailers, to consumers.
Losses due to spoilage can lead to immediate and long-term financial loss for growers, distributors, and retailers, as customers may lose confidence in a business if they’re sold spoiled and damaged products. Not only is there revenue loss due to spoilage, but businesses may also incur costs associated with disposing of the excess waste.
Food safety concerns
Rotten produce and spoilage can also cause food safety concerns, as the microorganisms from spoilage cause foodborne illness. This is a risk for both businesses and consumers.
Each year, there are several hundreds of reported foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States alone linked to fresh produce. These outbreaks occur from both fruits or vegetables having been contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, or toxins somewhere along the supply chain and before they were eaten.
Food waste is a major problem as food insecurity becomes an increasing issue in the United States. A large percentage of food goes to waste each year in America, resulting in billions of dollars of loss. And the actual end product isn’t the only thing being wasted—the amount of resources to produce and get the food from farm to table can result in excessive consumption.
Not only is there a financial cost to food waste from rot and spoilage, but there’s also an environmental cost. Food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. When food rots in landfills, it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In fact, food waste is responsible for a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Silo is here to help
When vegetable and fruit rot does occur, it’s important to take action immediately to minimize the damage. This may include removing spoiled produce from shelves, conducting customer recalls, or issuing refunds. Businesses can limit the financial and reputational damage caused by spoilage.
During these stressful times, businesses can benefit from produce ERP solutions like Silo, which offers tracking and traceability features. When you need to notify your customers and vendors about a recall, all the information you need is right at your fingertips.
Book a demo with Silo today!