Maintaining fruit firmness is an important consideration during the postharvest handling and storage of rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum Aiton). Soft fruit can result from poor cultivar characteristics, harvest maturity, harvest method (hand or machine), handling during transport, grading and packaging as well as storage temperature and duration. Regardless of the source, soft fruit will often culminate in the increased spread and sporulation of saprophytic fungal pathogens during subsequent storage and marketing periods (Sanford, 1991; Miller, 1984; Ballinger, 1978; Hudson, 1981). Even if the fruit appears visually sound, wholesalers and consumers consider soft fruit to be unacceptable (Rohrbach and Mainland, 1987). As a result, soft fruit contribute to poor postharvest quality and a substantially abbreviated marketing period.
Blueberries are considered highly perishable and have a moderate respiration rate. In south Georgia, rabbiteye blueberry harvest occurs in June, where daytime temperatures routinely exceed 30 °C for 6 to 8 h·d−1, and RH often in excess of 80%. Tight packing of these dark-pigmented fruit in lugs can often result in temperatures much greater. Fruit must be cooled promptly after harvest to maintain fruit quality. Tetteh et al. (2004) found that firmness loss in blueberries began immediately after harvest and that the degree of firmness loss was correlated with the time delay between harvest and cooling.
Blueberries have historically been classified as climacteric fruit (El-Agamy et al., 1982). However, unlike many climacteric fruit that can be harvested at a pre-climacteric stage of development and ripened in a controlled manner closer to the market, blueberries are harvested near full ripeness and will not improve in quality during handling and storage. A notable exception is where antioxidant content, an important quality parameter, can increase during storage in select cultivars (Connor et al., 2002). However, in general, blueberry quality, including firmness, will decrease after harvest. Any technology that could assist with the maintenance of firmness after harvest would be of great benefit to the blueberry industry.
A postharvest application of 1-MCP is very effective at inhibiting loss of quality in numerous fruits and vegetables (Watkins, 2006). A treatment of 1-MCP reduces the perception of ethylene by competitively binding to the ethylene receptors in the tissue (Sisler et al., 1996; Sisler and Serek, 1997). Firmness, an important quality parameter, is retained in numerous crops, including apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) (Fan et al., 1999), avocado (Persea americana Mill) (Feng et al., 2000), apricots (Prunus armeniaca L.) and plums (Prunus domestica L.) (Dong et al., 2002), pear (Pyrus communis L.) (Baritelle et al., 2001), and tomato (Lycopersion esculentum L.) (Hoeberichts et al., 2002), after an exposure to 1-MCP. The majority of these studies also reported a highly significant reduction in the rate of ethylene production.
To the best of the authors’ knowledge, there are no published reports on the use of 1-MCP for maintaining blueberry fruit firmness. However, it was demonstrated that a moderate treatment rate of 1-MCP did not affect the percent marketable fruit of ‘Burlington’ or ‘Coville’ highbush blueberries (Delong et al., 2003). Thus, the objective of this study was to establish the efficacy of a 1-MCP treatment for the maintenance of postharvest quality in rabbiteye blueberry cultivars.
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