Santiago, March 2020.- Perhaps a recurring question these days due to the quarantine that many people live in Chile, has been how to keep fruits and vegetables fresh for longer periods. The answer was delivered by the postharvest specialist from the Agricultural Research Institute (INIA), Bruno Defilippi, who has been studying this issue for years, not only to supply the domestic market but to export to increasingly distant destinations.

“The implementation of simple practices such as avoiding damaging a live product such as fruits and vegetables and having clear storage temperatures for fruits and vegetables at home is the starting point. For example, in the case of avocado, a product that is generally a high price these days, it can be kept in the refrigerator at 5 ° C without affecting its texture and flavor ”, explained INIA Researcher La Platina.

On the other hand, he added, tomatoes should be kept at room temperature in a cool place so that they do not suffer the effects of low temperatures in the refrigerator, which translate into changes in the characteristic flavor of this fruit. While another general practice in the care of leafy vegetables -such as lettuce, chard, broccoli or basil- is to try to keep them in containers that avoid dehydration or loss of water from these products. For example, using perforated bags that have a level of ventilation or opening. "With this it is possible to extend the useful life of the vegetables, maintaining a good appearance and their organoleptic characteristics," he said.

Regarding the fruits most consumed by Chileans at this time, such as grape, apple, pear or kiwi, care begins from the moment of purchase, choosing fruits that do not present external damage such as wounds, blows or rot, since they will directly affect its duration in the home.

"When buying, whether in a supermarket or fair cart, do not overfill them with products, avoiding causing damage by blow. Once at home, distribute the fruits between the refrigerator and a cool place in the house, allowing them to be consumed as needed. Virtually all available fruits tolerate a temperature of 5-6 ° C that refrigerators have, the only exception being the banana or banana that is preferable to keep out of the refrigerator. In case of preparing fresh fruit salads (fruit salad or tuttifrutti), wash the fruit well before cutting it and immediately before consuming it, and for a longer duration add a few drops of lemon or orange to prevent the apple or banana from changing. of color ”, detailed Defilippi.

Another advice from the INIA post-harvest specialist was related to the time and type of products that can be frozen. Unfortunately, a large part of the homes do not have adequate space to freeze large quantities of products, so they are usually used for products of animal origin. However, having enough space in the freezer or "freezer" is a good opportunity to freeze prepared and fresh products.

“In general, you can freeze a large number of products, but taking into account that almost everything that is frozen is to be consumed cooked or processed after defrosting. Avoid freezing some such as celery, cucumber, lettuce and cabbage, since, given their characteristics, usually with this process they lose their texture once defrosted. In another case, like broccoli, it is advisable to bring it to a boil and then cool it in water and dry before freezing. This homemade treatment, apart from maintaining the characteristic flavor, will maintain the green color once thawed. As a general rule in products to be frozen, use clean and dry products, and leaving them in a container (bag or plastic container) with the least air space inside, and do not forget to put the date on which the product entered the freezer ”, advised.

A key aspect for fruits and vegetables is to keep a refrigerator in the best conditions. The first thing is not to overfill the inside of the refrigerator, since the air inside needs to move properly to remove the heat from the product, and in this way cool the fruit or vegetable to a temperature of 5 ° C in the shortest possible time.

A second practice that should be routine in any home is to keep a clean and hygienic refrigerator, since the main source of contamination is bacteria rather than viruses. For this, it is enough to prepare a chlorine solution (approximately 1 tablespoon in a liter of water) and clean the surface well. Lastly, it is important to avoid “cross contamination” between products, especially between those of animal origin (beef, chicken, pork, seafood) and those of vegetable origin, such as fruits and vegetables.

"It is worth mentioning that probably the simplest but difficult practice to carry out in current conditions is to buy the amount that is really needed, considering the size of the family group," said the professional, who added that, in in case of having excess products, the person must be attentive to changes in color and appearance, which is one of the most practical indicators of deterioration. “The easiest thing will be to share them with relatives or neighbors to avoid deterioration. Of course, maintaining the distancing rules suggested by the authorities to avoid the contagion of Covid-19, ”he said.

Causes of food waste

As for the causes of food waste, they are mostly biological, including waste caused by decomposition, and can also be physical due to poor handling of the product, leading to dehydration and damage. “Both the physical and biological causes are closely related to logistical problems, whether it is the effect of the lack of infrastructure to maintain the ideal conditions for the storage and transport of fruits and vegetables or the important distances required to reach the centers of distribution or final consumption, even within the national territory ”, details Defilippi.

This is an important issue that not only applies to the export of products to distant markets such as Europe or Asia, but also locally due to the important distances between the centers of production and consumption. In this sense, it is important to highlight that, in Chile, the 28% of food loss would be the responsibility of the consumers themselves and the 72% occurs in previous stages related to the agricultural process in the value chain (handling, storage, production, distribution and prosecution).

“While farmers, together with the public and private sectors, are looking for solutions to minimize losses in the field and in distribution channels, we must not neglect the role of consumers. We need to provide information to help them avoid losing food, especially in relation to how to keep fruits and vegetables fresh for longer periods ”, says INIA specialist La Platina, who for years has led various studies to address this problem, providing not only technological solutions but also spreading knowledge.

More details about INIA's Postharvest Unit can be found in the following video or in the INIA Digital Library , in which there is technical information on the subject.

About INIA

The Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA) is the main institution for agri-food research, development and innovation in Chile. Linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, it has a national presence and a work team of more than 1,000 highly qualified people. It executes an average of 400 projects per year around 5 strategic areas: Climate Change, Sustainability, Food of the Future, Emerging Technologies, and Extension and Training of Capacities. These initiatives contribute to the sustainable agri-food development of the country, creating value and proposing innovative solutions to farmers, strategic partners and the population, generating a social profitability that varies between 15% and 25%, for each peso invested in each of their projects.

INIA, more than 55 years leading the sustainable agri-food development of Chile.

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Press contact: María Jesús Espinoza, INIA La Platina communications manager mariajesus.espinoza@www.inia.cl