Visual quality and waste of fresh vegetables and herbs in a typical retail market in Brazil
ABSTRACT Because of high perishability, leafy vegetables and fresh herbs are transported to the market soon after harvest. It is very likely that most of the damage due to inadequate handling at the farm and during transport will result in food discard only later in the retail market or in the household. Inadequate handling and marketing strategies in the store are expected to further contribute to waste. The study was designed to address the following questions: 1) what is the visual quality of leafy vegetables and fresh herbs received in the retail market; 2) what is the volume of discard of this produce in the retail market 3) what are the main causes of discard and 4) how these variables are influenced by the vegetable species, the suppliers and the stores evaluated. The study was conducted in 4 stores of a regional supermarket chain in Federal District, Brazil, for a period of 6 months. We evaluated: 1) number of produce items received and discarded; 2) visual quality of produce at reception and 3) cause of discard. The operations in each store were described based on observations and discussion with the store staff. When considering the sum of all produce, the discard (expressed as units per day and corrected for quantity purchased) was influenced by all the factors studied, namely store, supplier and day of the week. Delivery of produce with any signs of wilting and yellowing was negligible but produce with bruised and old leaves which should have been trimmed in the farm were frequent. Visual quality was important to determine shelf life and preference by the consumer but how important it was depended on other factors such as the vegetable or herb considered and the workflow in the store. The discard varied from 8.7% to 97.0% of the number of units purchased. Smaller waste volume was observed for spring onion, parsley, coriander, collard, leek and green leaf lettuce. Waste volume equal to or above 50% was observed for baby romaine lettuce, broad-leaved endive, wild chicory, mustard greens, sage and thyme. The vegetables and fresh herbs discard in the Brazilian retail market is in great measure the result of technological constraints together with bad management practices in the store. The implications of this situation for the definitions of food waste and food loss are discussed.