In the field ..... continued.

Under hot, dry conditions it is inevitable that the crop may already be near wilting point. It is also usual for a 2 - 3 per cent loss in weight to occur during the cooling process. (The greater the magnitude of cooling the larger will be the loss in weight.) But if crops are harvested early in the day whilst they are still turgid and before high field temperatures have built up, quality is maintained.
In most cases the crop should be in the holding store within a few hours of harvest. Most often delay occurs in the field whilst the crop is awaiting transport to the packhouse: this should be minimised at all costs.

Packing

In the packhouse the crop is usually handled in one of two ways.

  1. Cool " pack " cool & hold

  2. Pack " cool " then hold

Problems with method 1: Leafy crops such as spring cabbage can warm up substantially during a protracted packing period. Also condensation can be a major problem. Warming-up can be reduced by allowing only a small amount of produce out of cool-store and onto the line at any one time, and by removing pallet loads of produce to the holding stores as fast as possible after packing. On occasions, this means moving half-filled pallets, rather than waiting for full loads to be produced. If considerable re-warming has occurred during the packing operation there are occasions when insufficient time remains to remove this heat after packing.
Method 2: When cooling after packing, the problem of re-warming does not arise as long as the product is moved to the holding store immediately after cooling. However, weight loss during cooling has to be allowed for in the weighing and packing operation.
Packing produce in the field: Field -packing, particularly of lettuce, is perfectly satisfactory provided the crop can be cooled immediately on arrival at the packhouse. In the case of lettuce this can be done quickly by vacuum cooling. However, not all crops can be vacuum cooled and where conventional coolers are used the design of containers affects the rate of cooling.
It is much easier to remove heat from produce in open sided plastic wooden crates or in trays with stacking corner posts, than in solid sided cardboard cartons. Although film packaging and overwrapping may reduce weight loss it also hampers cooling.

The Cool Chain

Many of the multiple stores operate the 'cool chain'. To be successful this requires close attention to detail and maintenance of cool temperatures right the way through to retail display. Several of the 'multiples' run depots at a temperature of 7°C. Produce below 2°C and above 10°C may be rejected. In the majority of cases packers attempt to cool produce down to around 3°C so that any re-warming that may occur during transfer to and from stores can be accommodated within the 7 - 10°C range. If dealing entirely with wholesale outlets it is generally preferable to cool from field temperatures to around 10°C rather than cool to 3°C and allow it to re-warm in the markets.