Many factors contribute to post-harvest losses of fresh fruit and vegetables and to list them all would take pages. Instead, I want to focus on one that touches everybody working in fresh produce: sorting and grading. It is a fact that over-sorting and over-grading on the farm and in the packhouse according to appearance (colour, size, shape) rather than nutritional value or eating quality leads to higher discards of edible foods.
A few years ago, I wrote in this column about an EU stipulation that bananas needed to be straight and not curved – a requirement that flew in the face of nature. Now I’m told that the Goldfinger, a small straight banana, was introduced on the SA market some years ago – and promptly rejected by consumers because it was too straight and therefore didn’t look like a banana!
I suspect the EU thing was driven in part by consumers who probably had little idea about how bananas are grown. No doubt the supermarkets – always with an eye on a ‘gap’ – would have picked up on this and helped fuel the process.
I have no idea if the EU regulation ever saw the light of day, but it illustrates a certain kind of madness. The grading regulations in South Africa focus on both external and internal factors and are continually under review.
Good inside and out
Because people tend to buy fresh produce with their eyes before any other considerations, it’s understandable that they would want the products to look good. Thus, external grading standards cover aesthetic as well as quality factors. The external grading regulations for potatoes, for example, cover size, weight and dimensions, giving a buyer an accurate assessment of the product.
Whether the average consumer will understand those criteria is not really the issue. What’s more important is that the consumer knows the potatoes have conformed to accepted criteria and that somebody – a professional inspector – has approved them accordingly.