B2B newsletter

Client:  Produce Marketing Association
Project:  Foodservice newsletter
Article:  Be Cooler Smart

Properly storing fresh fruits and vegetables in the cooler is one of
the most effective ways to maintain product quality and reduce
shrink. However, today’s cooler was not necessarily built with fresh
produce storage in mind.

If it were, it would have multiple temperature settings, storage areas with various atmospheric conditions, airtight
compartments and a lot more space.  Despite its shortcomings, the cooler, when used at its maximum effectiveness,
can mean the difference between serving fresh-tasting fruits and vegetables and throwing spoiled produce in the
dumpster before it reaches the prep table. Here are some practical tips on how to maximize cooler use to ensure
top-quality produce for your customers and less product waste for you.

Use cooler space wisely
One of the most important ways to use a cooler effectively is to know what items should be stored there and what items
should not.  Cooler space is limited.  An operator can’t afford to take up valuable space with bulky produce items that do
not require refrigeration.  Be sure your receiving personnel are familiar with those items that should be refrigerated and
those that should not.  Even if some fruits and vegetables are delivered in a refrigerated truck, they should not
automatically go into the cooler.  Items such as tomatoes, potatoes, onions, bananas, and fruits that need to be ripened
do not belong in the cooler.  Besides taking up valuable space, cold temperatures can encourage deterioration and
retard ripening.

Refrigerate produce quickly
It’s important to refrigerate those items that belong in the cooler as soon as you get them.  Your cooler isn’t a miracle
worker.  It can’t “fix” fruits and vegetables that have been damaged by excessive heat or sun exposure caused by
leaving cartons on the receiving dock or in the kitchen for extended periods.

Take advantage of temperature variances
One of the greatest challenges that fresh produce poses is the fact that ideal storage conditions vary significantly
from item to item.  Some fruits and vegetables should be stored in cold, damp areas.  Others require cool, dry
conditions.  Some need to be sprinkled; others don’t.  How can a single cooler accommodate all these needs?

Group like items together
First, group those items with similar temperature and atmospheric requirements together.  Store them in the
part of the cooler that most closely meets those needs.

Cold and damp
For example, leaf items and other vegetables that require cold temperatures (around 35 degrees F) and high
humidity (90 to 95% relative humidity) should be stored in the back of the cooler where the temperature is
usually the coldest and the atmosphere is most damp.  Because these items are often sprinkled or iced down
during storage, they should be kept on the lower shelves so they won't drip on items that need to be kept dry.

Cool and dry
Many fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, require cool, not cold, temperatures and a drier atmosphere.
Items such as citrus, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and eggplant should be stored on higher shelves in
the front of the cooler next to the door where the temperature is warmer and the air is somewhat drier.

Separate ethylene-producing items
All fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas in varying degrees.  However, high ethylene-producers such
as tropical fruits and melons can cause discoloration (spotting or russeting) and deterioration of certain
vegetables that are extremely sensitive to the gas.  Keep high ethylene-producing fruits such as apples,
melons and citrus away from lettuce, leafy greens, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower,
cucumbers, soft shell squash and eggplant.

Air circulation is critical
All fruits and vegetables require some air circulation.  However, strong drafts can cause premature wilting
or drying.  This can happen inside the cooler if fruits and vegetables are stored near the cooler fan or
condensing unit.  To alleviate the problem, store canned or boxed items next to the cooler fan.  Unlike
fresh produce, these items can withstand high air movement without damage to product quality.

Keep temperatures constant
Exposing fresh fruits and vegetables to extreme temperature fluctuations can promote deterioration.
Generally speaking, fresh produce should not be removed from the cooler until just before it is prepared.