Ultra-low temperature shipping and cold chain management of 'fuerte' avocados (Persea americana Mill.) grown in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
‘Fuerte’ makes up 25% of the avocados exported from South Africa to European markets and requires shipping periods of up to 28 days and a correctly managed cold chain. A temperature of 5.5°C and expensive CA and 1-MCP treatments are currently used to delay ripening over this lengthy cold chain; however, fruit still appear on the European market showing signs of softening and physiological disorders. Increased competition on the global market and the disadvantage of a particularly long distance to the European market has challenged the South African export industry. These challenges have necessitated improved road and sea transport logistics, co-ordination with producing countries which supply fruit to European markets over similar periods as South Africa, and research into ultra-low temperature storage to possibly enable future access to new lucrative markets in the USA, China and Japan. It is also known that there are various ‘weak links’ in this cold chain and that cold chain breaks are detrimental to fruit quality, but further research into the negative effects of these cold chain breaks at ultra-low temperatures was needed. Thus, the objective of the study was to determine the potential for shipping ‘Fuerte’ avocados at temperatures of 2°C as well as determining the effects of cold chain breaks on fruit quality, throughout the growing season and possibly for an extended period of 56 days. ‘Fuerte’ avocados were harvested at three different maturity stages reflecting early-, mid- and late-season fruit, with moisture contents of 74%, 68% and 63%, respectively. Fruit were stored at 2°C or 5.5°C, treated with 1-MCP and waxed. Additionally cold chain breaks (24 hour delay and break at 14 days) were implemented. Fruit softening, mass loss, days-to-ripening, external and internal quality as well as antioxidant levels and total sugar levels were determined. The first aim was to determine whether a lower than currently used storage temperature could be a successful alternative to 1-MCP use. A storage temperature of 2°C provided good internal quality as well as reduced mass loss and fruit softening, which is related to the slightly reduced use of C7 sugars at 2°C compared with 5.5°C. Although the overall occurrence of external chilling injury was relatively low, 2°C storage caused a notably higher occurrence of external chilling injury than 5.5°C storage, particularly early in the season, but extended the days-to-ripening. Unfortunately, no correlation between the anti-oxidants in the exocarp and external damage was found. Waxing significantly reduced the external damage on fruit stored at 2°C, so much so, that the treatment combinations of ‘2°C, no 1-MCP, waxed’ showed no external chilling injury throughout the season. Further, waxing fruit at 2°C could eliminate the need for 1-MCP, delivering a product of the required shelf-life and quality. Best results were achieved for mid-season fruit stored at 2°C. Late-season fruit would potentially be the most profitable to store at this low temperature, however, body rots (anthracnose and stem-end rot) were more common in the late-season. Storage at 2°C can therefore maintain the internal quality over a storage period of 28 days and be a potential alternative to 1-MCP use as the season progresses. The effect of cold chain breaks on fruit quality was then investigated and showed that both a delay and a break in the cold chain increased mass loss and fruit softening, reduced days-to-ripening and increased external chilling injury, especially early in the season. Water loss was the main contributor to the decreased fruit quality which resulted from the delay in cooling, increasing external damage significantly, particularly early in the season. The break at 14 days had a marked effect on physiological activity of fruit during storage, seen mainly in the increased metabolic activity, resulting in increased fruit softening and water loss during storage and a decrease in C7 sugars and thus shelf-life, particularly for fruit stored at 5.5°C. Importantly, 1-MCP use and storage at 2°C reduced the effects of cold chain breaks with respect to fruit softening, however, lowering the storage temperature had a greater negating effect than 1-MCP and could be a successful alternative to the use of 1-MCP. The internal quality throughout the experiment was very good, with few internal disorders and no significant treatment effects on internal quality and C7 sugar concentrations. Overall, a break in the cold chain, before and during cold storage, resulted in a marked reduction in fruit quality. The storage temperature of 5.5°C should not be used for a 56 day storage period as it resulted in significant fruit softening during storage, even when 1-MCP was used, and resulted in significantly more external chilling injury in the mid- and late-season than at 2°C. Storage of 1-MCP treated, waxed fruit at 2°C, resulted in the best shelf-life and fruit quality, particularly mid-season fruit which had negligible external chilling injury and 100% sound fruit. Early-season fruit suffered significant external chilling injury at 2°C and late-season fruit had the highest body-rots and internal disorders at this storage temperature. Although mid-season fruit could be successfully stored at 2°C for 56 days, the use of a 56 day storage period is not recommended as a practical storage period, due to the high risk of external damage, particularly if maturity levels are not optimum and trees and fruit are not of the highest quality. Overall this thesis has shown that 1-MCP treatment can play an important role early in the season when fruit are susceptible to external damage, however, storage at 2°C results in good quality fruit and, when used in conjunction with waxing, appears to be a viable alternative to the use of 1-MCP, particularly later in the season. Further, the negative effects of cold chain breaks on fruit quality have been demonstrated and, importantly, the storage temperature of 2°C negates the fruit softening effects of these breaks, even if 1-MCP is not used.
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