Have you ever shown up at a busy restaurant just as a table becomes available? Or perhaps you raced to a store to get an item that’s in high demand and discovered that you are the lucky individual to get the last one on the shelf? When these things happen, I say to my wife “Timing is everything!”

Timing is everything when it comes to food freshness too. All produce has a definable shelf-life, or “freshness capacity,” which varies based on harvest quality and conditions, and product temperature. The timing becomes critical from the point produce is harvested and must be precooled to remove the field heat as quickly as possible. Precooling reduces the impact on shelf-life, and the time from harvest to precooling is called cut-to-cool (CTC) time. Many people think the CTC time is consistent throughout the day, however there can be many delays during this process, and the variations in ambient temperatures significantly impact the freshness and thereby the shelf-life of the product.

How much of an impact? A lot.

Zest Labs analysis of data collected of California strawberries harvested during the warm summer months of August and September found that the pallets experienced very different CTC times and were exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time before reaching the packing house, which leads to high variability on remaining shelf-life. Key findings include:

  • Growers typically have a target maximum CTC time of two hours; the data shows that 50.1% of the pallets had CTC times greater than two hours, with some as high as seven hours.
  • The temperatures experienced by the pallets with CTC times greater than two hours ranged from 58.4°F to as much as 96.8°F.

Growers and precooling companies do their best to address these variables, but often lack the data they need to proactively manage for freshness. Visual inspection or pulping can’t identify these process-related issues. And, if this variance is not properly monitored and managed, growers can unknowingly end up shipping pallets to retailers with insufficient shelf-life for display or consumer sale. This can lead to rejected orders and results in waste, lost profits and potential food safety issues.

Zest FreshTM provides growers and packing/precooling companies with the real-time data needed to make the most effective decisions and ensure proper protocols are being followed. Our precool monitoring system wirelessly tracks pallet temperatures, accurately reflecting actual product temperature without stopping the process for manual checks. Workers can intelligently prioritize pallets for precool and know at a glance when precool is complete for all pallets, leading to improved efficiency and quality consistency based on thorough precooling of each pallet.

Would you be interested in seeing the data about your cut-to-cool variance? If so, please email me.  To read more about our cut-to-cool findings, please click here for more details.