From the FAO.org Online Book
- Handling, sorting, packing and storage of dried and dehydrated fruit and vegetables
- It is not easy to assess when drying has been completed. In absence of instrumentation, the characteristics of the various products after drying / dehydration can only be assessed by experience. Although this cannot be conveyed adequately on paper, some general indications can be given. Fruit products. - When a handful of fruit is squeezed tightly together in the hand and then released, the individual pieces should drop apart readily and no moisture be left behind on the hand. It should not be possible to separate the skin by rubbing unpeeled fruit and the fruit center should no longer reveal any moist area. Banana should be leathery and not too tough to eat in their dry state. Vegetable products. - Onions should be dried until they are crisp, whereas tomatoes should be leathery. In general, the lower the moisture content, the better the keeping quality will be, but overtired products generally have an inferior quality. Also the loss in weight from excessive drying cannot be tolerated in a commercial operation designed to run profitably.
It is, however, essential to dry up to an optimum / safe moisture level, related to the type of the product and its designed shelf life, and to avoid running the risk of the products becoming spoiled due to excess water content. When drying is completed, the material should be sorted either on trays or on a table in order to remove pieces of poor quality and color and any foreign matter. After selection and grading, dried products should be packed immediately, preferably in polythene bags which must be folded and closed / tied tightly. However, plastic bags are easily damaged and therefore they must be packed into cartons or jute sacks before they are transported.
- Deterioration of dried fruit during storage
- Dried fruit must be considered as a relatively perishable commodity in the same category as cereals, pulses and similar stored products. It is subject to deterioration resulting from mold growth, insect and mite infestation and physical and chemical changes.
- Mold growth
- When the moisture content of dried fruit is allowed to exceed the maximum permissible level for safe storage then mold growth may occur. Table 8.4.1 indicates the moisture levels applicable to various types of fruit; and it can be seen that the safe moisture levels for dried fruit are much higher than those for other similar commodities. At the present time, suitable field moisture meters for use with dried fruit are not readily available, and moisture determinations can only be satisfactorily carried out where laboratory facilities are available. Various species of drought resisting fungi may develop on dried fruit when the moisture content is just above the safe level, and a number of osmophilic yeasts are quite commonly associated with spoilage in dried fruit. Many of the yeasts bring about fermentation with the production of lactic acid or alcohol, and yeasts are frequently present in wart-like crystalline growths which occur in fruit which has become "sugared". In very moist fruit mucoraceous fungi may predominate and are visible as white fluffy growths on and within the fruit.
- Mite infestation
- Severe mite infestations are often associated with the growth of osmophilic yeasts in fermenting dried fruit products. Many of these mites are unable to complete their development in the absence of yeast. They have been reported as occurring on dried fruit, and particularly figs and prunes in Mediterranean countries. Such infestations are difficult to eradicate.
- Insect infestation
- Insect infestations may begin in the field before harvest, may continue during bulk storage after drying, and unless measures are taken to prevent it, may occur in the finished packaged product during storage prior to distribution and consumption. Regular treatments of the stack of dried fruit with a suitable insecticide will be necessary as a routine to combat light insect infestations. Pyrethrins synergised with piperonyl butoxide are commonly used as a surface spray or as an aerosol fog for this purpose. Heavy infestations will require that the fruit be fumigated.