An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But what does it take to get people to buy that apple? Top-notch quality.
The consumer of today expects fresh produce to meet the highest quality standards. For food businesses, it means stricter quality criteria. And for produce quality teams, it implies complying to a long list of standards for quality and safety.
Just as bad production practices can make food injurious to health, so can poor quality processes. Handle an apple under unhygienic conditions and even an extra fancy grade apple will rot.
The entire food chain holds the responsibility of supplying safe fruits and vegetables. Quality inspectors, supervisors and heads know this. With that in mind, we take a look at the steps quality teams can take to distinguish themselves.
1. Put the finger on the right standards.
The first step is to determine which standards, broadly categorised as food safety and produce quality, they must comply with. Most often these are determined by destination.
For instance, if you’re exporting seedless grapes out of Australia, the food safety requirement is:
“Produce is to be grown and packed under a HACCP based food safety program that is subject to an annual third-party audit. A copy of the current certification to be forwarded to the receiver.”
While the produce quality criteria for class 1 seedless grape is:
“Colour - bright red to dark red/red-black berries; uniform per carton and per pallet. Visual Appearance - full bodied and seedless; bright, practically intact bloom; fresh, greenish bunch stems; no foreign matter. Sensory - firm to touch; crisp skin. Juicy pulp, pleasant distinctive flavour, not too sharp. Size - equatorial diameter of 10 - 15. No Cartons with >10% Berries <10mm berry diameter. Maturity >16.0° Brix (Soluble Solids). >18:1 Sugar/Acid ratio.”
- FMA, Fresh Specs
2. Take heed of marketing standards.
Once quality teams know the right standards they need to follow, they must sort the produce as per marketing standards.
For instance, Extra Fancy, Fancy, No.1 and Utility are all US grades of apples. Each grade has its own tolerances on size and quality along with acceptable major and minor defects.
In short, there are one too many marketing standard compliances. It is not easy for quality teams to stay on top of all these requirements.
Be very aware of contamination compliance.
For quality teams, it is essential to pay just as much heed to contamination compliances.
The perishability of fresh fruits and vegetables makes them prone to contamination. They get spoiled or tainted from substances that are added due to various production stages like holding, packaging and transporting.
For instance, seedless grapes must meet the following contaminant criteria before being shipped:
“Residues, Contaminants and Heavy Metals to comply with the FSANZ Food Standards Code ML’s and MRL’s.”
Contamination and pesticide residue lead the way in impeding the export of most fresh produce. A paper published in the Indian Journal Of Agricultural Economics reports the majority of produce rejections from India happen due to hygiene problems.
Dealing with these issues is well within the means of quality teams; all it requires is proper safety and quality processes.
4. Pin down cold chain compliances.
Fruits and vegetables have a ticking biological clock from the second they are harvested. Cold chain controls can impact ripening processes to reduce food loss by extending shelf life.
But artificial ripening or ripening rooms come with their own troubles. They compound every time the fruit or vegetable travels down the chain, making it essential for quality teams to adhere to requirements. For instance, seedless grapes must be free of:
Major temperature injuries like soft, flabby, dull or browning berries (freeze damaged). Desiccated or heat injured like soft or shrivelled berries.
Technology works in favour of produce quality.
These four steps are the measures quality teams must take. But the magnitude of safety and quality standards dwarfs even the tallest jackfruit. Packaging to labelling to certification, there are too many steps and within each innumerable specs.
Combine the complexity with limited manpower, long hours, lack of proper documents, and it is clear that the current produce quality processes are a mere disguise. They are too outdated to work. It is why standards slip so frequently, leading to rejected fresh produce or worse yet recalls.
Fortunately, there are emerging technologies that can bolster quality processes, as we elaborated in our latest e-guide.
There is software that helps teams go paperless and never have to worry about filling another Excel sheet. There are machines with unprecedented contamination detection.
There are organic protective coatings that increase produce shelf life without breaking compliance standards. There are handy mobile apps that digitise quality, making inspections objective, faster, and more accurate.
There are no drawbacks to digitising quality.
The global fruit and vegetable market is worth trillions of dollars. Just the processing niche of the industry is expected to reach $346.05 Billion by 2022. But we are not set to reap the estimated gains.
Each year, the world loses $400 Billion worth of food before it even reaches retail stores. Part of the problem is inefficiencies in the quality and safety processes, increasingly hemorrhaging the market.
The challenge lies in adapting these fresh produce quality processes to the modern world. Technology can answer this call and help quality teams take immediate action for safe and quality food, giving consumers exactly the kind of apple they want!
Download our guide on innovations in food quality tech and revamp your processes for the 21st Century.