Improving the quality and safety of fresh fruits and vegetables: a practical approach

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Improving the quality and safety of fresh fruits and vegetables: a practical approach

Manual for trainers

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Material 3.8



(Physalis peruviana)

Photo: CENICAFE. Colombia


Action plan to assure the quality and improve the efficiency of post-harvest handling systems for Physalis (Cape gooseberry)

(Physalis peruviana)

Preparing the Action Plan
Step 1. Team

  • Team of post-harvest technologists.

  • Technologist specialized in handling horticultural produce.

Support from producers, exporters, research and development institutes, academia, etc.

Staff members from participating institutes meet to analyse results.
Defining the scope
a. Objective: Assure the quality of Physalis, throughout harvesting and post-harvesting, by improving the efficiency of the post-harvest handling systems, to meet the growing demand in international markets.
Hazards associated with quality losses were evaluated against Codex Alimentarius Standard 226-2001, establishing:
Minimum trade requirements

  • Fruits must be whole (Shape).

  • Fruits must have the characteristic spherical shape (Shape).

  • Color of the fruits must be uniform, according to the maturity specified in the color tables (Uniformity).

  • Fruits must be fresh in appearance and with a firm consistency, skin must be smooth and shiny (Appearance/Consistency).

  • Fruits must be healthy, free from insects and/or diseases diminishing the internal quality (Pathological damage/insects).

  • Fruits must be free from any abnormal external moisture resulting from mishandling in post-harvest (harvest, collection, sorting, grading, adaptation, packaging, storage and transport) (Appereance).

  • Must be free from foreign matters (soil, dust, agrochemicals and others), visible in the product or package, (Physical/chemical contamination).

  • Length of the peduncle must be less than 25 mm (Avoid mechanical damages).

Classification: is traded with or without calyx (outside leaves protecting the fruit). Regardless of size and color, is classified in three classes:

  • Extra Class: produce must conform to all general requirements and be free of defects affecting quality. The calyx may have defects in coloration resulting from moisture and/or fungi (absent). The whole of these defects must be below 5 percent of the total area of the fruit.

  • Class I: produce must conform to all general requirements and must be free of defects affecting quality, to be traded. The calyx may have defects in coloration resulting from moisture and/or fungi (absent). The whole of these defects must be below 10 percent of the total area of the fruit.

  • Class II: any produce not qualifying for the other two categories, but complying with the general requirements for trading. Fruits with healed cracks over 5 percent of total area are not permissible. The calyx may have defects in coloration resulting from moisture and/or fungi (absent). The whole of these defects must be below 20 percent of the total area of the fruit.

b. Produce characteristics:
Physiology: from a physiological standpoint, Physalis shows an intermediate behavior, with increased respiration during ripening of climacteric fruits. Nevertheless, before its actual physiological nature is defined, ethylene production should be studied.
Production periods: Physalis is grown by small farmers, in surfaces not exceeding 2 ha, using quite conventional technologies. Even if harvest takes place all year long, peaks in harvesting occur in October– November.
Handling the produce: has a relatively low perishability, allowing for greater flexibility in harvesting. For export, Physalis comes with calyx, index of maturity at harvest time ranges between degree 3 and 5, adaptation processes are basically by hand (sorting and grading), packaging in dried cardboard boxes, transport to ports and loading. Most exports are by plane, although with growing demand, sea shipping is increasing.

c. Determining hazards associated to quality impairement





Resulting from live organisms alien to produce, such as birds, rodents, insects and micro-organisms (fungi, bacteria, virus)

Heliothis (insect)

Diseased (Cercospora and other fungi)





Resulting from cuts, bruises, grazes, drops, distortions from compression.





Shows under adverse conditions: dehydration, inside drying, whitering.

Freeze damage




Evidence of chemical residues

Evidence of chemical residues


Deficiencies in the product affecting its development, ripening and other processes, resulting from soil quality, micronutrient, excess transpiration, among others.


Healed cracks


Source: Estudio evaluación de pérdidas poscosecha de Physalis. SENA-CIAL-

CENICAFE (2002).

Step 2. Preparing a Process diagram:
The process diagram summarizes the flows in post-harvest handling of produce to meet the export markets requirements.
Step 3. Identifying hazards resulting in quality losses of produce during harvest and post-harvest and defining control measures
The process diagram in Table 1 describes the process and operations, pointing to strengths and weaknesses that might result in hazards and quality losses in the end product.
The process diagram allows for the ready identification of significant process hazards, resulting in quality impairment and losses.
Answers to these hazards may be grouped into training (for workers, producers and other agents in the chain), technology (adoption, transfer and adaptation) and applied research (solutions not yet available). Table 2 shows results obtained.
Some answers may not be available (such as results from applied research) and a distinction should be made between preventive and control measures applicable in the short and medium term, and measures resulting from efforts made by institutions outside the enterprise concerned, enforceable only in the long term.
Step 4. Prioritizing control points
Both Tables 1 and 2 are rich in qualitative information. However, to prioritize those points along the process where control measures are necessary, quantitative information, assessing the actual magnitude of the hazard resulting in quality losses, is required.
Data on quality categories produced: Estimates show that at roadside collection, 60 percent of the fruit produced belongs to class extra and the remaining two 30.3 percent to classes I and II. However, after reclassification, 17 percent is downgraded from extra to I and II as a result of mechanical damage (bruises) and the amount of very small fruits.
Likewise, 5.8 percent of the fruit harvested remains out of the chain, discarded at the farm and resulting from:
45.6% have healed cracks

9.1% are split, bruised, etc. (mishandled)

16.6% maturity index (green fruits)

19.6% biological damages (basically fungi: Cercospora sp.)

Why does fruit not meet the requirements for class extra?
Physiological damage: 10 percent fruit damages (split fruits) and 26

percent calyx damages.

Inadequate handling: 35 percent on fruits and 18 percent calyx.
Inadequate maturity index: 20 percent green and over-ripe fruits.
Biological damages: particularly significant in the calyx up to 28

Some 8 percent of losses from inadequate handling result from a dirty

This reference data allow deciding the short-, medium- and long-term solutions to enforce and the proper follow-up actions to take.
The action plan could, for example, prioritize – in the first place – training to reduce losses associated with inadequate handling, while contemplating adding more costly and complex answers.
Table 2 shows that measures conducive to sorting out the following points are critical and should be prioritized to enhance the efficiency of the handling chain to meet the quality requirements of the target market:

  • reduce mechanical damage optimizing the process diagram;

  • reduce rejects not meeting the maturity requirements;

  • reduce biological hazards (implementing post-harvest measures, Integrated Crop Management, ICM and Integrated Pest Management, IPM);

  • reduce cracked fruits.

Step 5. Acceptance levels
According to Codex Alimentarius Standard 226-2001 regarding tolerances for size and classes.
Implementing the Action Plan: Some measures of the action plan shown on Table 2 concern training to optimize produce handling. Presentation 3.3 exemplifies a post-harvest training program for workers.
Likewise, in order to implement hazard reducing actions, public and private support will be required to:

  • assess the climacteric nature of the fruit;

  • assess the relation, under different temperatures, between maturity and post-harvest life;

  • assess post-harvest factors bearing on split fruits;

  • standardize packaging and harvest containers;

  • assess potential zones for different crops (seasonality);

  • research into integrated handling systems to reduce phytosanitary problems.

Step 6. Follow-up and verification
Records should become available in the field and in packaging with enough data to verify the efficiency of the control measures in place. Presentation 3.6 illustrates this.
Step 7. Corrective actions
Strengthened relations are to be expected, in the short term, among the players along the chain resulting in continuous feedback between producers, exporters and support institutions. This will allow for timely corrective actions when the quality improvement targets are not being met for produce selected for export markets. Corrective actions may be: revise data gathering, strengthen training, increase technology transfers, etc.
Step 8. Evaluation and refocusing of the plan
The entrepreneurs will continually evaluate that the objectives of the action plan are met (monitoring records and customer complaints and using other validation procedures) and introduce any required adjustment responding to the market’s signals and opportunities. For example, quarentenary treatments are currently studied to place products into potential markets now closed. This will surely result in adjusting post-harvest processes and redirecting marketing strategies.

 Source of the data “Evaluation of post-harvest losses for physalis (Cape gooseberry)”. Agreement CIAL-SENA-CENICAFE, Colombia (2001-2002). The data were adapted by FAO to illustrate the application of a HACCP approach methodology to implement action plans to improve the quality of horticultural products.

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