The three main objectives of applying postharvest technology to harvested fruits and vegetables are: 

  1. To maintain quality (appearance, texture, flavor and nutritive value)
  2. To protect food safety, and
  3. To reduce losses (both physical and in market value) between harvest and consumption.

Effective management during the postharvest period, rather than the level of sophistication of any given technology, is the key in reaching the desired objectives. While large scale operations may benefit from investing in costly handling machinery and high-tech postharvest treatments, often these options are not practical for small-scale handlers. Instead, simple, low cost technologies often can be more appropriate for small volume, limited resource commercial operations, farmers involved in direct marketing, as well as for suppliers to exporters in developing countries.

Many recent innovations in postharvest technology in developed countries have been in response to the desire to avoid the use of costly labor and the desire for cosmetically "perfect" produce. These methods may not be sustainable over the long term, due to socioeconomic, cultural and/or environmental concerns. For example, the use of postharvest pesticides may reduce the incidence of surface defects but can be costly both in terms of money and environmental consequences. In addition, the growing demand for organically produced fruits and vegetables offers new opportunities for small-scale producers and marketers.

Local conditions for small-scale handlers may include labor surpluses, lack of credit for investments in postharvest technology, unreliable electric power supply, lack of transport options, storage facilities and/or packaging materials, as well as a host of other constraints. Fortunately, there is a wide range of simple postharvest technologies from which to choose, and many practices have the potential of meeting the special needs of small-scale food handlers and marketers. Many simple practices have successfully been used to reduce losses and maintain produce quality of horticultural crops in various parts of the world for many years.

For a recent project in Zambia, PEF provided technical assistance to our colleagues at Rutgers University and UC Davis. A summary presentation on simple, improved postharvest practices can be downloaded here. 

There are many interacting steps involved in any postharvest system. Produce is often handled by many different people, transported and stored repeatedly between harvest and consumption. While particular practices and the sequence of operations will vary for each crop, there is a general series of steps in postharvest handling systems that are often followed.

  • Harvesting and preparation for market
  • Curing root, tuber and bulb crops
  • Packinghouse operations
  • Packing and packaging materials
  • Decay and insect control
  • Temperature and relative humidity control
  • Storage of horticultural crops
  • Transportation of horticultural crops
  • Handling at destination

If you have questions or comments on any of these topics, visit our Postharvest BLOG to submit your idea or question. A practically oriented extension manual authored by Lisa Kitinoja and Adel Kader is available for free download in 12 languages.  5th edition 2015 link 

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