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Onions, Dry

Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality

Trevor Suslow

Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

Maturity & Quality

Maturity Indices

  • Indicated when approximately 10 to 20 percent of tops have fallen over
  • Conversion from active growth to dormancy accelerated by undercutting bulbs 1 to 2 inches
  • "Field-dry" maturity is indicated when bulb neck is completely dry to the touch and not slippery. Typically reached at 5-8% weight loss following harvest

Quality Indices

  • Mature neck and scales
  • Firmness
  • Diameter (Bulb size)
  • Absence of decay, insect damage, sunscald, greening, sprouting, freezing injury, bruising, and other defects
  • Degree of pungency
Temperature & Controlled Atmosphere

Optimum Temperature

Field curing when temperatures are at least 24°C (75°F) or exposure for 12 hrs to 30 to 45°C (86 to 113°F) for forced air-curing

Mild onions: Typically 0.5 to 1 month at 0°C (32°F)
Pungent Onions: Typically up to 6 to 9 months at 0°C (32°F) depending on the cultivar

Optimum Relative Humidity

75 to 80% for best scale color development

65 to 70% with adequate air circulation (1m3/min/m3 of onion)

Rates of Respiration

Whole Onions
3-4 ml/kg·hr at 0-5°C (32-41°F); 27-29 ml/kg·hr at 25-27°C (75-79°F). Storage between 5-25°C (41-75°F) favors sprouting and is not recommended for extended periods.

Diced Onions
40-60 ml/kg·hr at 0-5°C (32-41°F).

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.

Rates of Ethylene Production

Whole Onions

Diced Onions

Responses to Ethylene

Ethylene may encourage sprouting and growth of decay-causing fungi.

Responses to Controlled Atmospheres (CA)

No commercial benefit has been identified for varieties with long storage potential. Onions are damaged by <1% O2 and 10% CO2. There is some commercial use of CA (3% O2 and 5-7% CO2) for sweet onion varieties (short storage potential). Diced onions benefit from CA conditions of 1.5% O2 and 10% CO2.


Physiological and Physical Disorders

Freezing Injury. Soft water-soaked scales rapidly decay from subsequent microbial growth.

Translucent Scales. Resembles freezing injury and is prevented by prompt cold storage following curing; 3-4 week delay in cold storage increases risk significantly.

Greening. Exposure to light following curing causes green-coloration of outer scales.

Ammonia Injury. Brown-black blotches result from ammonia gas leakage during storage.

Pathological Disorders

Botrytis Neck Rot. Watery-decay initiates at neck area and moves downward through entire bulb. Light gray to gray fungal growth is generally visible at neck infection and on outer scales. Proper drying and curing of onion essentially prevents this storage disorder. Storage conditions (as above) should be maintained to prevent condensation from forming on the bulbs.

Black Mold. Black discoloration and shriveling at neck and on outer scales caused by the fungus Aspergillus niger. Often associated with bruising and leads to bacterial soft rot. Low temperature storage will delay growth of fungus following field or handling infestation but growth will resume above 15°C (59°F).

Blue Mold. Watery soft rot of neck and outer scales followed by the appearance of green-blue mold (occasionally yellow-green) spores of the fungus Penicillium. Minimize bruising and other mechanical injuries, sunscald, and freezing injury.

Bacterial Rots/Soft Rot. Water-soaked, foul-smelling, viscous liquidy rot caused by Erwinia carotovora subsp. carotovora.

Slippery Skin. Generally visible only at neck area and upon cutting to expose inner scales. Scales have a watery-cooked appearance.

Sour Skin. Slimy, yellow-brown decay generally limited to inner scales which give off a sour odor when exposed.

General Bacterial Rot Control:

  1. Harvest only at full maturity
  2. Proper drying and curing
  3. Minimizing bruising and scraping
  4. Maintaining proper storage conditions (as above) to prevent condensation from forming on the bulbs

Special Considerations

Onions are both storage-odor sources for other commodities, such as apples, celery and pears, and storage-odor absorbers from commodities such as apples.

Disorders Photos

Title: Fusarium Basal Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Fusarium Bulb Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Grey Mold

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Neck Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Onion Smudge

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Soft Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Translucent Scales (1)

Photo Credit: Marita Cantwell, UC Davis

Title: Translucent Scales (2)

Photo Credit: Marita Cantwell, UC Davis


August 1996

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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.

The information in this fact sheet represents our best understanding of the current state of knowledge at the time of the latest update, and does not represent an exhaustive review of all research results. 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. (Accessed January 18, 2014).

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