By Dr. Dormita R. Del Carmen

Are you an organic product consumer? Or are you planning to be a producer of organic fruits and vegetables? A research project at the University of the Philippines Los Baños or UPLB, entitled “Postharvest quality and safety management of organically grown fruits and vegetables,” has the answers to questions you may have.

The project studied consumers’ perception of organic produce and examined the ideal postharvest practices that could provide safe and quality fruits and vegetables that consumers deserve.

Avoiding contamination: Organic products are prone to microbial contamination, particularly from E. coli and salmonella because of the animal manure that is used as an organic fertilizer to grow them. Tools, materials, equipment, and facilities throughout the supply chain, including harvesting, sorting, trimming, washing, drying, packaging, transporting and retailing of organic fruits and vegetables, are also sources of contamination if proper sanitation is not observed.

Thus, the guidelines set by the Code of Practice for Organic Produce, the Sanitation and Standard Operating Procedures, and Good Manufacturing Practices should be carefully followed to prevent the contamination of organic fruits and vegetables. It is also important to use clean water in washing them in order to minimize, if not altogether avoid, microbial contamination.

Bringing longer life to produce and “bending rules” on ripening time: The project recommends the use of alternative and low-cost techniques to extend the shelf life of organic produce.

One of these is evaporative cooling. As an alternative to refrigeration, it is practiced by using a moist cloth cover for the temporary storage of organic fresh produce. The wet cloth absorbs the heat from fresh produce, thereby lowering temperature inside the produce.

Another way to extend the shelf life of organic produce is the use of modified atmosphere packaging, which lessens oxygen and raises carbon dioxide surrounding organic fruits and vegetables in order to slow down their deterioration. One of the easiest ways to do this is to enclose the fruit or vegetable in a plastic film or bag.

Other alternative methods to extend the life of organic fruits and vegetables are the use of organic-based sanitizer, different types of retail packaging or plastic films, hot water treatment and refrigerated storage.

On the other hand, it also encourages the use of bio-ethylene to hasten the ripening process of fruits. Bio-ethylene is an alternative to conventional non-organic ethylene that uses leaves to hasten the ripening of fruits. Banana, for example, is more desirable and commands a higher price when it reaches the near-ripe to fully ripe stage. To achieve such conditions after harvesting, green mature latundan and saba banana packaging can be sealed with rain tree leaves. After two days, they become 50% ripe.

Consumers’ preferences: Consumers in Benguet, Metro Manila, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon perceive organic produce as being safe to eat, free from pesticides, and nutritious.

Study results also showed that they look for freshness, cleanliness, and the absence of damage
or decay when selecting organic fruits and vegetables in the market. The most popular organic produce among respondents were pechay, mustard, spinach, kangkong, and sweet potato tops.

These are the basics of the industry of organic farming, especially in the postharvest stage, or after harvesting the fruit or vegetable.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2016 issue.