Fresh Cut Produce
“Fresh-cut” refers to raw fruits and vegetables that are harvested, cut, washed, packaged, refrigerated, and made ready to eat or cook. Its sibling term, “value-added,” covers the same process but emphasizes how this preparation offers consumers value by providing convenience and ease of use. Because these items have not been processed by other techniques such as freezing, cooking, drying, or canning, they are more perishable and will spoil quickly if not sufficiently cooled during shipping and storage.
Fresh-cut produce may be a single commodity or two or more mixed in the same package such as bagged lettuce blends, cole slaws, or fruit salads.
References: UC Davis Postharvest Technology website, USDA.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Fresh-cut varieties continue to increase, but the most common include apples, broccoli, carrots, celery, garlic, melon mixes, lettuce salad blends, citrus groupings, and many types of chopped or sliced fruit salads. Cabbages and broccoli are made into a number of creative cole slaw dishes, with other vegetables and fruits thrown into the mix for color and flavor.
Stir fry mixes include a broad array of fresh produce, and tropical salads bring old stalwarts like apples and grapes together with berries, kiwifruit, mangos, melon, citrus, papaya, pineapple, pomegranates, star fruit, and more. Soup and stew preparations may include a number of vegetables and herbs.
Nearly two-thirds of fresh-cut product is packaged salads, with other vegetables like carrots and celery accounting for more than another quarter, fruit comprising the balance. Top chopped and sliced fruits include apples and various melons, with mixed fruit trays making up about a fifth of all fresh-cut fruit offerings.
Styles of cuts for fresh-cut produce depend upon the commodity, but can be broken down into several categories, including:
• balls – used for cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon; pieces are cut into bite-sized spheres that are ridged or smooth
• buds, florets, or crowns – used for broccoli and cauliflower; usually attached by part of the stem and include flowers or clusters from the head
• chopped or shredded – used for cabbage, carrots, lettuce, romaine and other leafy vegetables; items are cut into squares, rectangles, irregular shapes, or long narrow shreds
• coined, cross-cut, rings, or slices – used for broccoli stems, carrots, celery, onions, sweet peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes; cross-cut, uniform pieces may be smooth or ridged and slices can be cut straight across the item or at an angle
• diced, cubed, chunks, or wedges – used for broccoli stems, celery, melons, pineapples, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes; commodity is cut into square or rectangular shapes or irregular chunks
• julienne, slivered, strips, spears, stalks, or sticks – used for broccoli stems, carrots, celery, onions, sweet peppers, pineapples, or potatoes; cuts are length-wise either with ends intact, squared off, or taperew
• whole-trimmed and cleaned, whole-trimmed and cored, or whole peeled – used for cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, grapes, lettuce, romaine and other leafy greens, onions, potatoes, and strawberries; the original shape of the item is generally maintained but washed and cut, with excess leaves and/or stems removed
• random cut – can be any commodity cut into random shapes and sizes.
References: International Fresh-Cut Produce Association, UC Davis Postharvest Technology website, USDA.
PESTS & DISEASE
Injured produce is more susceptible to microbial growth, particularly if temperature is not controlled. By definition, fresh-cut produce is injured product. The act of cutting, peeling, or slicing wounds fruits and vegetables and can transfer pathogenic microorganisms from the item’s surface to the tissue inside. In addition, pathogens can grow and multiply quickly on fresh-cut produce.
Edible coatings can provide a modified atmosphere around surfaces to help preserve and extend shelf life; the coatings act as a barrier to oxygen or water loss, as well as gas exchange. Cellulose-based edible coatings are generally used on cut apples while edible wax is preferred for citrus.
The most common spoilage symptoms include:
• browning, discoloration, yellowing – common in apples, asparagus, beets, snap beans, broccoli, shredded cabbage, cauliflower, celery, garlic, jicama, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, bulb onions, green onions, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, pomegranates, potatoes, rutabagas, strawberries, and summer squash
• softening, texture loss, translucency – common in asparagus, jicama, kiwi, melon, bulb onions, peppers, persimmon, strawberries, and watermelon
• leakage – common in beets, carrots, cucumbers, kiwi, melon, bulb onions, green onions, oranges, pomegranate, summer squash, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon
• off-odors – common in broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach
• drying and cracking – common in carrots, celery, potatoes, and rutabagas
• sprout growth – common in garlic and green onions.
References: UC Davis Postharvest Technology website, University of Florida, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, USDA.