Introduction

W. Jongen, Wageningen University

Fruit and vegetables are both major food products in their own right and key ingredients in many processed foods. Consumers increasingly require food products that preserve their nutritional value, retain a natural and fresh colour, flavour and texture, and contain fewer additives such as preservatives. These requirements pose new challenges for fruit and vegetable producers and processors. There has been a wealth of recent research both on the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption to health and on new techniques to preserve the nutritional and sensory qualities demanded by consumers. This book reviews these developments.

Eating fruits and vegetables has long been associated with health benefits, though some of the ways in which these foods enhance health have only become clear in recent decades. Part 1 looks at this recent research. Chapter 2 considers the epidemiological evidence linking increased fruit and vegetable consumption with health benefits, the constituents of these foods which may be responsible for these benefits and the factors influencing their modes of action and efficacy. As well as being rich in micronutrients, plant foods also contain an immense variety of biologically-active, non-nutritive secondary metabolites known as phyto-chemicals. Chapter 3 discusses one of the most important groups of phyto-chemicals, antioxidants, which are thought to play an important role in the body's defence against cardiovascular disease, certain (epithelial) cancers, visual impairments, arthritis and asthma. Against the background of these two chapters, Chapter 4 looks at the impact of processing on both key nutrients and anti-oxidants, taking tomato as a case study to demonstrate how the nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables may be preserved and even enhanced during processing.

Fruit and vegetable production and processing involves a complex supply chain from the farm to the point of consumption. One of the central themes of recent research has been the importance of strengthening each link in the chain and improving the integration of the supply chain as a whole if consistent and high fruit and vegetable quality is to be maintained. Part 2 considers how safety and quality can be better managed in the supply chain. Chapter 5 looks at the increasing use of mathematical modelling techniques to better understand and control cultivation, again using tomato as a case study. Such techniques help to make more efficient use of resources with both economic and environmental benefits valued by the consumer, and are increasingly being applied to improving sensory and nutritional quality. Chapter 6 describes how the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, originally developed for the food processing sector, is being applied on the farm to cultivate safer fresh produce free of contamination from pathogens or other contaminants such as pesticides.

Once harvested, fruits and vegetables must be handled carefully if they are not to deteriorate before they reach consumers as fresh retail products or manufacturers for further processing. This critical stage in the supply chain is reviewed in Chapter 7 which defines quality criteria in freshly-harvested produce, describes the principal causes of quality deterioration and the main storage and packaging techniques used to maintain quality. At each stage in the supply chain there is a need for effective measurement of product quality. Chapters 8 and 9 describe some of the advanced instrumental techniques that are now being developed to measure quality and spot defects so that they can be remedied quickly. The development of rapid, non-destructive on-line instrumentation is a critical weapon in maintaining quality at all stages in the supply chain. The final two chapters in Part 2 look at the processing stage in the supply chain, discussing how to better understand and control the thermal processing of fruits and vegetables, and ensure the safety of cooked chilled foods containing vegetables.

Against the background of Part 2, the final part of the book considers the range of new techniques that are being developed to improve quality at the various stages of the supply chain. The first two chapters consider ways of improving quality during cultivation and immediately after harvesting, discussing ways of improving the natural resistance of fruit and the genetic modification of plants to improve shelf-life. The following three chapters build on the overview provided by Chapter 7 in describing techniques for maintaining the postharvest quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. Chapter 14 looks at minimal processing methods whilst the following two chapters consider developments in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and the development of edible coatings. The final two chapters then consider two new technologies in processing fruit and vegetables: high pressure processing and vacuum technology.

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