Effect of infield handling conditions and time to pre-cooling on the shelf-life and quality of tomatoes

Abstract This study investigates the effects of post-harvest handling practices prior to storage on the quality of tomatoes in South African supply chains. Pink mature tomatoes were harvested in the morning and afternoon, transported from two farms located 40 km apart to two central pack houses located near each of the farms in Limpopo, South Africa. The samples were transported using bins (468 kg capacity) and lugs (20 kg capacity). After harvesting, the samples were either immediately transported to the pack house and precooled within two hours, or left in the field and transported to the pack house to be pre-cooled after six hours, to simulate delays during transportation. On arrival at the pack houses, the fruit was sampled from the bottom 0.15 m of each lug or bin, precooled using forced air and washed. After precooling, the samples were stored either under ambient conditions or refrigerated storage (15±2 °C). The tomato colour, firmness, weight loss, marketability and pH were monitored over a 24-day storage period. The rate of change of the fruit hue angle was significantly (p ≤ 0.05) higher for samples handled using bins as compared to those handled using lugs. Handling conditions had no significant (p > 0.05) effect on the rate of loss of fruit flesh firmness. The bottom layer of fruit stored in bins showed 30% mechanical damage as compared to 2% in lugs. Harvesting in the morning and pre-cooling within two hours improved fruit marketability and weight-loss by up to 200 kg/ton and 75 kg/ton, respectively, as compared to harvesting in the afternoon and pre-cooling after six hours. As the best practices for industry, the study recommends minimizing the time to pre-cooling, harvesting in the morning and using lugs to handle the fresh tomatoes.