Sequential decreases or increases in the levels of O2 in controlled atmosphere (CA) were investigated as techniques to improve fruit quality of `McIntosh' apples (Malus ×sylvestris [L.] Mill. var. domestica [Borkh.] Mansf.), a cultivar that tends to soften rapidly in storage. Precooled fruit that were harvested at optimum maturity for long-term storage were placed immediately in different programmed CA regimes. In the first year, CA programs consisted of 1) `standard' CA (SCA; 2.5–3.0% O2 + 2.5% CO2 for the first 30 d, 4.5% CO2 thereafter) at 3 °C for 180 d; 2) low CO2 SCA (2.5–3.0% O2 + 2.5% CO2) at 3 °C for 60 d, transferred to low O2 (LO; 1.5% O2 + 1.5% CO2) at 0 or 3 °C for 60 d, and then to ultralow O2 (ULO; 0.7% O2 + 1.0% CO2) at 0 or 3 °C for 60 d; and 3) ULO at 3 °C for 60 d, transferred to LO at 0 or 3 °C for 60 d, and then to SCA or low CO2 SCA at 0 or 3 °C for 60 d. In the second year, the regimes sequentially decreasing in O2 were compared with continuous ULO and SCA. After removal from storage, apples were held in ambient air at 20 °C for a 1-week ripening period. Fruit firmness was evaluated after 1 and 7 d at 20 °C, whereas the incidence of physiological disorders was assessed only after 7 d. Lowering the temperature while decreasing O2 was the best CA program with significant increased firmness retention during storage and after the 1-week ripening period. Reduced incidence of low O2 injury in decreasing O2 programs and absence of core browning at the lower temperature were also observed.
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