From time to time, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) receives enquiries from the public related to the quality of fruits and vegetables available in the local market, such as odd appearances and weird tastes. What affects the quality of the produce and how to maintain it before consumption?
Fruits and vegetables are living plant organs which exhibit all the features indicative of plant life, such as respiration, transpiration, synthesis and degradation of chemical constituents. The produce remains living even after harvest. The external quality (e.g. appearance such as colour and shape, firmness and freshness) and internal quality (e.g. flavour, aroma, texture, and nutritional value) of the produce are thus affected by a number of factors, such as production practices, postharvest handling and storage conditions.
Fruits and vegetables are natural products subject to physiological changes. Indeed, most fruits undergo many physical and chemical changes during ripening and after harvesting. For example, blueberries and melons may have a weird taste if they are over-matured and when fermentation is taking place.
Another common example of physiological change is the splitting of banana peels. After harvesting, bananas will continue to ripe due to the naturally produced ethylene. During ripening, the peel loses water by transpiration to the atmosphere and also by osmosis to the pulp. This results in the increase in volume of the pulp, and may lead to skin splitting.
The CFS reminds the trade and the public to adopt good stock management, and store fruits and vegetables in cool places as appropriate. Refrigeration can prolong the shelf life of the produce, in particular during the hot summer months in Hong Kong. Once the produce has been cut, it should either be consumed or covered tightly and refrigerated promptly. It is advisable to consume perishable food soon after purchase to ensure its quality.
For more information about the quality of fruits and vegetables, please refer to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website:
- Production is only half the battle - A training manual in fresh produce marketing for the Eastern Caribbean
- Prevention of post-harvest food losses fruits, vegetables and root crops a training manual
- Fruit and vegetable processing
To know more about how to store your fruits and vegetables, please refer to Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Best Flavor.