Few things are more disappointing than thinking you’ve got a juicy, flavorful peach — only to bite into a dull, flavorless, mealy ball of mush.
Based on the amount of fruit I find in coolers during store checks, I think it’s time for a refresher on refrigeration. So I turned to the man who talks the science of fruit flavor, ripening and postharvest: Dennis Kihlstadius.
Kihlstadius is owner and president of Bemidji, Minn.-based Produce Technical Service, which offers postharvest technology and consulting to produce. You might recognize him from his 19 years with the California Tomato Commission, 18 years with the Pear Bureau Northwest, 14 years with the California Pear Advisory Board, nine years with the Florida Tomato Committee, seven years with the California Avocado Commission or six years working on ripening, chill damage and postharvest with the National Mango Board.
One bad consumer experience leads to weeks of lost sales, Kihlstadius says.
“Once a person has a bad peach, it takes them three weeks to come back and try another,” he says. “During that three weeks you may have had seven to 10 varieties come in that store and nobody knows.”
Kihlstadius says the biggest problem comes from storage and handling, namely the Killing Zone.
This should be a familiar term for retailers, he says, but for whatever reason — policy, turnover, lack of training — the institutional knowledge seems to have been lost.
“Chilling injury is the No. 1 problem with stone fruit,” he says. “Fruit stored within the killing temperature — 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit — causes internal breakdown and chilling injury.
Chilling injury leads to discolored internal flesh, and the dreaded leathery, mealy texture.
With some tropical fruits, like bananas and papayas, it’s a little easier to see the results of chilling injury, and retailers have learned how to handle those properly. Kihlstadius puts it like this: when water temperature decreases from 50 degrees to near freezing, it increases in size up to 3%, rupturing the cell structure.
Fruit is made of mostly water.
“So when you have produce items that aren’t made to have that cellular structure changed, it increases mealiness and that bad mouth feel,” he says. Even tomatoes and watermelons get mealy when they’re chilled.
Kihlstadius advises consumers to never buy stone fruit that’s in a cooler at the store, but that doesn’t do anything for fruit that’s been stored in the killing zone in a warehouse or back room.
“We’ve got to get back to the basics on some of this stuff,” he says. “One size does not fit all in the warehouse.”