Quality and Safety of Fresh-cut Produce

For the past 15 years, consumption of fresh-cut produce (e.g., salad, carrot sticks, sliced melons) has risen about 10% each year. As of 2010, the market for fresh-cut produce was valued at around $10-12 billion annually, and fresh-cut products made up more than 15% of all fresh produce marketed in the U.S. However, because fresh-cut products spoil easily, more than $1 billion may be lost each year after harvest. In recent years, the number of produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. has increased. Outbreaks cost the U.S. billions of dollars in terms of destroyed food products, medical expenses, and lost wages and worker productivity. If the number of outbreaks continues to rise, consumers will lose confidence in fresh-cut produce and buy less. Currently, the industry relies on practical experience and traditional technologies to preserve fresh-cut produce, but these conventional methods do not pay enough attention to characteristics that keep customers coming back for more, such as extended shelf life, good flavor retention, appealing texture, and food safety. With over 200 different fruits and vegetables that can be sold as fresh-cut products, each with unique properties and handling requirements, effective ways to preserve quality and detect contamination are needed to reduce food spoilage and safety issues. Alternative and emerging technologies should be thoroughly evaluated for impacts on quality, nutritional value, and safety before being introduced to the fresh-cut produce industry.

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