Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality
Trevor Suslow and Marita Cantwell
Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis
Maturity & QualityMaturity Indices
Sprouts, plant seedlings consumed shortly after germination, are produced from many vegetable and agronomic plant seeds. Harvest maturity is highly regulated by germination (sprouting) conditions. The desired sprout length is the primary maturity index and harvesting is done at a relatively fixed number of days following radicle (root) emergence. Depending on seed type, harvest generally occurs 3 to 8 days after germination (Ex. alfalfa and sunflower, respectively). Examples of typical desired sprout lengths are given below:
Sprouts should be clean, brightly colored for the type and free of damage, debris and decay. Bean sprouts should be etiolated (lacking noticeable green chlorophyll) with white root tips ( none to very limited browning). Sprouts are typically harvested and washed free of seed coats and non-germinated seed. If germinated in a solid medium rather than in hydroponic culture, sprouts are thoroughly washed to remove adhering materials.
Temperature & Controlled AtmosphereOptimum Temperature
Rapid cooling is essential to achieve the full storage potential of seed sprouts. Under these conditions most sprouts may be expected to maintain acceptable quality for 5 to 9 days. Shelf-life at 2.5°C (36°F) is less than 5 days, at 5°C (41°F), and at 10°C (50°F) is less than 2 days. The high respiration rates and perishable nature demand distribution and short-term storage at 0°C (32°F). Although industry experiences with Mung Bean suggest the potential for damage, no symptoms of chilling injury have been unequivocally linked to this temperature regime.
Mung Bean Sprouts:
To calculate heat production multiply ml CO2/kg·hr by 440 to get Btu/ton/day or by 122 to get kcal/metric ton/day.
Responses to Ethylene
Low to medium sensitivity. Ethylene effects are not considered to be a significant factor in the optimal handling and distribution regimes for sprouts.
Packing sprouts in plastic "clamshells" with limited venting or in perforated film pouches helps maintain quality. One report on mung bean sprouts (CA) demonstrated that 5% O2 + 15% CO2 extended keeping quality.
DisordersPhysiological and Physical Disorders
Freeze injury. Sprouts are susceptible to freeze injury but sensitivity varies widely. Shoots become water-soaked and turn black. Roots appear water-soaked and glassy. Roots become soft quickly on warming and darken rapidly.
Bacterial Decay (Pantoea agglomerans = Erwinia herbicola, Pseudomonas fluorescens Biovar II, Pseudomonas marginalis, Pseudomonas viridiflava) is a common problem in many sprout types and will develop very rapidly in production systems as well as in postharvest storage, at warmer than optimum temperatures. High quality seed, proper pre-germination, seed treatments and postharvest refrigeration are the primary controls but washing sprouts in chlorinated or ozonated water (or other effective and approved disinfectant) will help control this decay and spoilage.
Microbial Food Safety and Sanitation. Several types of seed sprouts have been clinically linked to several notable outbreaks of bacterial pathogens, especially in recent years. Multistate incidents of highly virulent Salmonella and enterohemorrhagic E. coli O157:H7 have been traced to the consumption of alfalfa, Mung bean, and possibly radish sprouts. Seed contamination has been positively identified as, at least, one confirmed source of contamination in several cases.
In 1998, the California Department of Health Services led a petition for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 18 registration of a 2% Ca(OCl)2 treatment for alfalfa seed as the best available method to ensure elimination of pathogens from seed. Full EPA Section 3 registration is expected in 2000. The International Sprout Growers association has endorsed this treatment as a voluntary industry-wide standard.
Organic sprout growers are at risk of losing their organic certification due to above limit residuals of hypochlorite. Alternative treatments are being actively investigated.
Use of Materials
The UC Postharvest Technology Center grants users permission to download textual pages (including PDF files) from this World Wide Web site for personal use or to reproduce them for educational purposes, but credit lines and copyright notices within the pages must not be removed or modified.
Except for these specified uses, no part of the textual materials available on the UC Postharvest Technology Center Web site may be copied, downloaded, stored in a retrieval system, further transmitted or otherwise reproduced, stored, disseminated, transferred or used, in any form or by any means, except as permitted herein or with the University of California's prior written agreement. Request permission from UC Postharvest Technology Center. Distribution for commercial purposes is prohibited.
Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.
How to Cite
Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)
Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality.