Tight residue rules leading to more fruit decay, says consultant
As retailers respond to demands for healthier produce by tightening the slack on maximum residue limits (MRLs), one side effect has been food waste. Netherlands-based consultancy HDG founder Otto de Groot has a team that conducts surveys and quality control assessments, as well as handling transport-related claims. He tells www.freshfruitportal.com how the push for chemical-free fruit has led to more diseased produce on arrival.
He says the business deals a lot with German discount retailers that need independent quality controls to prove their import standards are up to scratch, but the bar has now been set so high that some shippers are struggling to get over it.
"We see that supermarkets and the discounters in Germany want to have the most security so that their buyers get a product that has low residue levels and is of good quality," says de Groot, whose company was formerly known as 'Expertisebureau Harmsen & De Groot B.V'.
"I think everybody is aware that it’s very important if you want to export that you follow the procedures, and everyone is doing that in general terms.
"But because of the fact that less post-harvest protection is used and there is less protection against diseases, we see a tendency in the amount of diseases in the fruit, such as decay or rot, is increasing."
He uses a theoretical example of an orange exporter to show the effects of the more stringent rules.
"Let's say he has a very good crop protection, he sprays a lot on his fruit and it is absolutely sterile when he ships it, so the fruit will not change so much over the transport period.
"But if he is not allowed to use all these products anymore, or they are in low concentrations, the possibility that decay pops up after a transport of two or three weeks is much bigger."
The organic movement has managed to thrive over the past decade under its own pesticide-free philosophy, but de Groot says some in the industry believe the limits should go further still, even for organic growers.
"I’ve met people who say 'we want to have a product that is absolutely free of everything', which goes much further than biological or organic products, because in organic production you’re still allowed to use a lot of protection, but it’s more controlled with a different range of products.
"If you're not allowed to use crop protection, if that’s the tendency, we could end up in the situation where producers are not capable of exporting anymore, because they will not harvest sufficient quantities of exportable product.
"They will go to markets which have different tolerance levels, like Asia or Russia."
De Groot highlights that controlled atmosphere packaging technology has been a great benefit for the industry, but a recent case with a banana exporter shows there may be some products that need tweaking.
"There is now a banana exporter who is suffering with an identified discoloration of his bananas, so in a consignment he is sending, suddenly certain cartons contain black bananas.
"We followed this phenomenon, which happened recently in the last two months, by checking everything, and we have come to the point where we think it’s the bags that are used for certain shipments that have insufficient permeability for certain gases."
He says the whole principle behind modified packaging is to minimize oxygen and increase the carbon dioxide level around the fruit so that it 'sleeps', using less energy.
"If you add to cooling less gas, less oxygen and more carbon dioxide, you can keep the fruit even longer, but if there’s no oxygen, or there’s too much carbon dioxide, the fruit starts to suffocate.
"Nobody knows why these specific bags are having this problem and other bags don’t create this problem, so this is something for the producer to check."
De Groot was unable to reveal the name of the banana exporter concerned.