When most people in Kenya get into farming for the first time they tend to overlook a lot of things. One of those things are the specifics of harvesting and storage.
Critical harvest and handling factors for fruits and vegetables involve two overlapping considerations; the first includes maintaining product quality, while the second is ensuring food safety.
All fruits and vegetables should be handled carefully to avoid bruises, skinning, damage due to impact and compression injury, and friction damage. Farmers in Kenya must be trained to harvest produce without causing damage. Injuries can occur at the time of harvest if care is not taken. These injuries can include finger bruises, inappropriate removal of plant parts, e.g. stems from the fruit, and impact bruising if produce is dropped into picking containers. Finger bruising of produce e.g. strawberries, may not show up for several hours. Even short drops can damage fruits and vegetables.
Containers used for produce should be clean to avoid any possibility of chemical contamination. High pressure wash, rinse, and sanitize all containers prior to use. Clean containers should be covered to avoid contamination after cleaning. Containers should not have rough surfaces that can damage produce. Damaged or spoiled produce should be left in the field to reduce contamination by decay organisms. Containers must be appropriate for the product; shallow for soft fruit, for example, to avoid compression damage. Over-filling of containers can further damage product, and increase damage if containers are stacked.
Most fruits and vegetables are damaged by heat and sunlight after harvest, and storage potential of short lived and highly perishable products can be greatly reduced. When possible, highly perishable fruits and vegetables should be harvested during the morning when product temperatures are lowest. Harvesting early in the day can be especially important if refrigeration capacity is limited. One exception is watermelon where it is recommended that harvest is later in the day to reduce chances of cracking.
Regardless, produce should be moved out of the farm as efficiently as possible, with frequent trips to avoid rapid warming of produce on the top layers of containers. If produce cannot be taken directly to a packing shed/store you should provide a temporary shade to prevent excessive warming. A number of approaches can be taken including:
- Providing shade in the field by utilizing shady areas under plants/trees but remember that shady areas change during the day. Make sure to cover the containers.
- You can construct a temporary shade net structure for putting vegetables under such circumstances.
- For short trips to your local market, use covered trucks to transport produce from the field.
Fruits and vegetables should be transported carefully to avoid damage. In addition to impact damage that can occur by allowing fruits and vegetables to bounce around, friction damage can occur as a result of products moving against each other and against container walls.
All produce should be washed before selling to the consumer. However if you are selling to brokers, you can load it to their trucks directly from the farm. There is also risk of washing produce in bulk which may spread decay-causing organisms and reduce shelf life.