How lettuce freshness is being measured with cutting edge imaging technology
Lettuce carton prices have passed $20 as both a supply gap and holidays have left processors and food-service buyers struggling to meet consumer demand.
Inconsistent weather has been a major factor for California’s Salinas Valley farmers, depleting the surplus supply of lettuce produced earlier this year.
Ivan Simko, USDA research lead, has developed technology for early stage detection of lettuce spoilage.
Weather conditions, including but not limited to drought, have resulted in reduced lettuce output in 2016.
“The plants have gone through a lot of stress,” said Jason Lathos, manager of commodities for Salinas-based Church Brothers Farms. “For Mother’s Day weekend you see foodservice sector demand increase 20% to 25%,” Lathos said. “With volume down by 25%, you’re probably 50% lighter than normal on one of the biggest holidays of the year for foodservice.”
While the price of lettuce has continued to increase and the volumes produced have decreased, USDA Agricultural Research Service plant geneticist Ivan Simko has developed nondestructive imaging technology that can detect decay in bagged lettuce.
The imaging technology is used for early detection of decay and evaluation of its progress, helping lettuce processors access quality and evaluate different growing techniques.
Simko and his group have also developed two lettuce-decay indices that will assist in selecting breeding lines that yield longer-lasting cut lettuce.
Simko said, “In turn, we can test breeding lines for longer shelf life, a trait that can be bred into current lettuce cultivars used in bagged lettuce products.” Until innovations such as Simko's help ease up the strain in the lettuce supply chain in the future, lettuce supply will be closely monitored by members throughout the produce supply chain for the time being.
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