A scientific study carried out in Australia by the prestigious professor of post-harvest, Dr R.B.H. Wills, has concluded that most non-climacteric fresh produce is kept in the distribution chain in atmospheres with an ethylene level that causes losses of between 10% and 30% of their potential post-harvest life.
During the study more than 700 measurements were made of the ethylene level in the fruit and vegetable cold storage of wholesale markets, distribution centres and supermarkets and in domestic fridges, over a period of three years. The figures were evaluated using a rating scale developed on the basis of the previously-published literature on non-climacteric fruit.
The authors of the study drew the following conclusions on the importance of good control of ethylene throughout the distribution chain:
- The levels present in the wholesale markets are suggested to result in a moderate reduction of postharvest life while levels in the distribution centres result in a moderate to high reduction. The supermarket retail stores provide the most benign ethylene environment, with levels in the low–medium range. Domestic refrigerators can provide an unfavourable ethylene environment, especially when apples are present.
- Although produce may only spend a small proportion of their postharvest life in each marketing situation, the effects of elevated ethylene levels are cumulative. The end result of successive levels of moderate ethylene levels throughout marketing can be a very short life in the hands of the consumer.
- The industry should be seeking to minimise the impact of ethylene on produce at all stages of the marketing chain. The extended market life that would arise from a reduction in ethylene level during marketing can lead to consumers having greater confidence in the purchase of fruit and vegetables with a resultant increase in sales volume and/or price.
- Education of consumers in appropriate storage in the home would also seem to be a worthy activity.