Ex­tend­ing fresh-cut pep­per stor­age

FRESH-CUT PEP­PERS are handy for snack­ing and in re­duc­ing meal-prepa­ra­tion time for con­sumers. But some­times that fresh­ness is short-lived.

Agriculture - - Contents - BY SHARON DURHAM

Though con­sid­er­able re­search has been con­ducted to de­velop pep­per va­ri­eties with greater yield and dis­ease re­sis­tance, ad­di­tional re­search is needed to de­velop va­ri­eties suit­able for retail and food-ser­vice mar­kets that re­quire fresh sliced-and-diced prod­uct.

Plant ge­neti­cist and re­search leader John Stom­mel and his re­search team with the Ge­netic Im­prove­ment of Fruits and Veg­eta­bles Lab­o­ra­tory, and food tech­nol­o­gist Yaguang (Sunny) Luowith the Food Qual­ity Lab­o­ra­tory, both in Beltsville, Mary­land, eval­u­ated a di­verse col­lec­tion of pep­pers for at­tributes that pro­long the shelf life of fresh-cut pep­per.

“Ex­ten­sive ge­netic di­ver­sity is present in the Cap­sicum gene pool, which in­cludes cul­ti­vated pep­pers,” states Stom­mel. “This di­ver­sity has been uti­lized to im­prove pep­per dis­ease re­sis­tance, fruit qual­ity, and yield.”

The fresh-cut fruit and veg­etable in­dus­try has ex­panded rapidly dur­ing the past decade due to the con­ve­nience and nutri­tion that fresh-cut pro­duce of­fers to con­sumers.

To help pro­duc­ers re­spond to the in­creased de­mand, the team iden­ti­fied va­ri­eties that were re­sis­tant to de­te­ri­o­ra­tion over 14 days of cold stor­age. “The re­sults pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for plant breed­ers to in­cor­po­rate at­tributes that con­trib­ute to fresh-cut qual­ity into elite va­ri­eties that will ben­e­fit the food in­dus­try and con­sumers,” Stom­mel says.

It is im­por­tant to note that the very ac­tion of cut­ting fresh pro­duce re­sults in dam­age to plant tis­sues, in­creases res­pi­ra­tion, and short­ens posthar­vest shelf life. The loss of fluid from tis­sues is closely re­lated to the qual­ity and shelf life of fresh-cut pro­duce. This leak­age is in­dica­tive of cell dam­age and is re­spon­si­ble for the cas­cade of ad­verse changes in fresh-cut prod­uct color, tex­ture, fla­vor, and mi­cro­bial growth.

The team looked at 50 pep­per va­ri­eties ob­tained com­mer­cially and from the ARS col­lec­tion—sweet bell, large elon­gated pep­pers, jalapeno, and ser­rano—to find those that can stand up to pro­longed cold stor­age. Fresh-cut sweet bell and elon­gated pep­pers ex­hib­ited signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, such as fluid leak­age, af­ter 10 to 14 days of stor­age, whereas jalapeno and ser­rano pep­pers didn’t lose flu­ids un­til 14 days of stor­age.

“We iden­ti­fied some pep­pers of each type that showed ex­cep­tional main­te­nance of fluid be­yond 14 days, mean­ing the pep­pers stay firm and don’t ex­hibit tis­sue break­down,” Stom­mel says. “Th­ese re­sults demon­strate that ex­ten­sive ge­netic vari­a­tion ex­ists in pep­pers, which can lead to im­proved fresh qual­ity via tra­di­tional breed­ing.”

Let­tuce, the base of sal­ads ev­ery­where, is also be­ing tar­geted for im­prove­ment. Plant ge­neti­cists Ryan Hayes and Ivan Simko in the Crop Im­prove­ment and Pro­tec­tion Re­search Unit in Sali­nas, Cal­i­for­nia, and Luo in Beltsville found sev­eral gene mark­ers that will al­low let­tuce breed­ers to con­fer a longer shelf life on salad-cut let­tuce. “Let­tuce with a gene that re­sults in rapid de­cay be­comes un­us­able in 1 to 2 weeks,” Hayes says. “By con­trast, let­tuce with a slow-de­cay gene lasted 1 month or more. This would be greatly ben­e­fi­cial to grow­ers, pack­ers, pro­ces­sors, and con­sumers.” (Reprinted from the De­cem­ber 2015 is­sue of AgRe­search Mag­a­zine)

ARS sci­en­tists eval­u­ated dif­fer­ent types of pep­pers for at­tributes that pro­long the shelflife of fresh cut pep­pers. (Photo by Scott Bauer)

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