Applying Knowledge – How to use what you already know to Inspect Asian Produce

Applying Knowledge – How to use what you already know to Inspect Asian Produce

Part 2 of 2

Nov 29, 2019 | Jeff Honey Last month I wrote about “borrowing” information from one commodity to perform an inspection on something that looks similar, but does not have established inspection instructions.  This month, I will continue that theme with some examples to guide you through some other “Asian” commodities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has Inspection Instructions for Specialty Fruits and Vegetables.  It is available here. If you look at Paragraph 33 on page 26, they describe Bok Choy, but they do not tell you how to inspect it, as they do in other inspection instructions manuals. So, what is our take-away here? The description states: “Branches: Fleshy, glossy, white with leaves smooth, green egg shaped, glossy, firm, scallop edged.” These are the positive attributes of bok choy. This is what you hope that you are looking at on the table. If the product doesn’t look like this, you have a problem that has to be communicated back to the vendor through the buyer. In this situation, I would refer to the USDA Shipping Point and Market Inspection Instructions for Lettuce, found here. Follow the inspection instructions for romaine lettuce, found in Part II, page 30. The bok choy should be free from decay, and not have more than two leaves per plant showing scoreable defects. If you are looking for information on bitter melon, it can be found in the USDA Inspection Instructions for Specialty Fruits and Vegetables, but it is listed as balsam pear. You may also know it as kerela. It is harvested before it is ripe, so it should have a green to light green colour on the surface and a lot of characteristic warts on it. It does not really fit with cucumber, so look for some basic desirable qualities if you do not have a spec sheet for it. It should be firm to the touch. It has a stem, so check the stem-end for decay. Make sure that there are not any signs of softness or disease. Cut some specimens in the first couple of cartons. Always cut some of whatever you are looking at! There may be some internal discolouration. How about winter melon? It is also called a wax gourd. They look like long-type watermelons, so start with the USDA watermelon manual. You will want to have a starting point for scoring things such as bruises in square inches. Check the stem for decay. Check the firmness and look for signs of disease, such as watery blisters. Asian pear or apple pears. Use the apple manual as a guideline. Apple pears are very susceptible to scuffing in transit, so watch for brown surface discolouration. Do not confuse that with limb rub. They also bruise very easily. Check for internal discolouration such as core breakdown.

Dragon fruit or pitaya is also becoming more common. It is also very delicate and easy to bruise.  There are not any inspection instructions that I can find. One of my favourite websites is the University of California, Davis. They have excellent information on post-harvest handling and storage. Here is the page for dragon fruit. The University of Hawaii, Manoa, also has a very useful fact sheet. Check for decay, bruising and particularly anthracnose, which spreads very rapidly under the right conditions.

Another outstanding resource comes from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Inspecting rambutan? This is the place for information. Once again, no grade standards or inspection instructions, but this site will tell you what to look for and how to store it. Whatever you do, do not panic when you open a carton of something new. It has to look like something that you have already seen. Ask your co-workers and supervisors. Get online. Feel it, taste it, cut it up and smell it. Look at what you have on the table in front of you, decide what it resembles, and “borrow” some information and apply it to your situation. Even if you are uncomfortable, take lots of photos. Someone knows what it’s supposed to look like!