The Key Connection Between Food Waste And Postharvest Handling

I’ll be the first to admit there are times when my refrigerator looks more like an ancient tomb filled with thousand-year-old relics than an actual storage facility for perishable goods. Unfortunately, right now is one of those times — Hey, I’ve been busy!

Lauren Alexander

Lauren Alexander

I know that at some point I’m going to have to go in there and toss out the few *ahem* items in there that have passed their expiration date, and inevitably, I’ll feel that same pang of guilt I do every time I have to clean out my refrigerator.

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It seems like we’re constantly bombarded with new reports detailing the insurmountable quantities of food waste we generate. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in the category of fruits and vegetables, North America and Oceania (Austrialia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands) are unfortunately the worst offenders, right behind Europe.

The report separates food waste into two different categories, food loss, and food waste. Food loss is categorized as food that has spoiled or spilled before it reaches its final product or retail stage, and food waste is categorized as food that is fit for human consumption, but is discarded by the retailer or the consumer.

Obviously, as a grower, it is nearly impossible to control the behavior of the end user of your product, but there are steps you can take to prevent food loss, which can start in the field and at the postharvest stage.

At the Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Conference held this January in Hershey, PA, I sat in on a presentation led by Marita Cantwell from the University of California (UC) Davis Postharvest Technology Center.

In her presentation Cantwell outlined several principles to achieve optimal postharvest quality, including harvesting at the correct maturity, reducing physical handling of the product, keeping the product protected from the sun, and getting the product cooled as soon as possible. She also pointed out that it helps to know the requirements of your market (expected size, ripeness, etc.) and the handling requirements of that crop (temperature, shelf-life, etc.).

Further information from UC Davis highlights the importance of improving marketing systems between growers and receivers, encouraging growers of major commodities to form marketing cooperatives to provide central accumulation points for their commodities, provide proper preparation for market and storage, facilitate transportation to the markets, and more.

At the end of the day, losses suffered at postharvest are not only a waste of food, they’re also a waste of your hard-earned time and money.

With a growing population, global food insecurity, and the increasing price of inputs, it makes sense to use your resources smartly and efficiently, maximizing the amount of produce that makes it from farm to fork. In times like these, every little bit counts.