Precision in the Handling of Fruits and Vegetables to Maximize Quality

The EHC Postharvest Symposium, part of the European Horticulture Congress, highlights Controlled Atmosphere Storage (DCA) and the understanding of factors affecting organoleptic and nutritional quality - The next edition of the EHC will be held in Murcia, Spain

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05 July, 2024

The continuous advancement in postharvest technologies and those used for research purposes leads to increasingly precise knowledge of the factors affecting fruits and vegetables from their development to the consumer's table. The papers presented in the session dedicated to postharvest at the EHC, European Horticulture Congress, Romania, May 2024, contribute to the understanding of these influencing factors, their effects, and advancements in their control.

The keynote lectures emphasized practical aspects, such as conservation in a dynamic atmosphere using the lowest possible oxygen levels, and quality for the final consumer. One of the sessions was dedicated to strengthening knowledge of the influence of cultivation factors, and another presentation focused on understanding the physiological bases for maintaining quality until it reaches the consumer.


Chlorophyll Fluorescence: Real-time Biodetection for DCA

The Laimburg Research Center is among the most experienced in working with DCA, Dynamic Controlled Atmospheres. One of the main reasons for using DCA is to control apple scald, a condition for which authorized products are no longer available in Europe.

Angelo Zanella delivered one of the keynote presentations, highlighting the advantages of achieving the lowest possible oxygen levels in preservation and the parallel importance of detecting the physiological state of the fruit to prevent damage due to excessively low levels of this gas.

Variability in Maturity States Among Batches from Different Areas of South Tyrol

Chlorophyll fluorescence (DCA-CF) utilizes real-time biodetection, allowing for the dynamic adjustment of atmospheric conditions based on the metabolic responses of stored fruits. This technique is widely implemented in apple preservation, including in South Tyrol, a region producing 10% of the EU's apples. It complements established technologies like 1-MCP treatment and serves as an alternative for organically produced fruit. 1-MCP also helps maintain quality when DCA is interrupted by opening the chambers.


Quality Begins in the Field

The importance of cultivation practices on postharvest behavior and quality has long been evident, and knowledge in recent years has significantly enriched. In addition to the classic understanding of the importance of potassium in fruit quality, numerous other scientific evidences have been added.

This topic was addressed in the keynote lecture by Bhimanagouda Patil, University of Texas, who detailed results obtained by his research group and others. At the same university, Luis Cisneros-Zevallos has demonstrated through various examples that applying stress to plants generally increases the concentration of nutritionally important compounds. Examples mentioned by B. Patil include the following.

In grapefruits, harvesting at the proper maturity increases levels of volatiles such as D-limonene, β-caryophyllene, and nootkatone. Storage conditions affect furanocoumarin levels, which decrease with senescence. Lowering storage temperature reduces these volatiles, possibly due to reduced activities of their biosynthetic enzymes.

Soils with high nitrogen content negatively affect grapefruit quality, reducing volatile and vitamin C content.

Bioactive compounds like furanocoumarin, D-limonene, and vitamin C participate in inhibiting degradative enzymes and improving human metabolism. Degreening enhances nomilin content, which has shown anticancer effects against breast and pancreatic cancer.

Low-dose gamma irradiation enhances health-promoting compounds in grapefruits.

Supplemental lighting increased the firmness of greenhouse-grown tomatoes by limiting the activity of cell wall-degrading enzymes and improving shelf life. These light conditions also enhanced phenolic and carotenoid content, vital for long-term health benefits in humans, particularly for chronic and gut-related syndromes. Light also positively impacted aromatic volatile levels, improving tomato quality and market value.


Objective: Offering Quality

The invited presentation by Julian Veronk from WUR focused on quality, emphasizing postharvest processes. Once harvested, perishable plant products are still alive and continue to mature and/or develop. This team's research demonstrates that abiotic factors like temperature, light spectrum, and relative humidity during cultivation or postharvest storage determine the physiological and biochemical processes shaping the quality of plant products. Improving quality requires studying the signal transduction mechanism from the abiotic signal to the plant response, which is the focus of this research team.


Priority Topics in Postharvest

Postharvest topics were the focus of one of the 10 symposia that comprised the EHC; the presidents of the "International Symposium on Postharvest and Quality of Horticultural Products" were Dirk Köpcke from the Eufrin and Fruit-Growing Centre Jork, Germany, and Liliana Bădulescu from the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest.

From left to right: Dirk Köpcke, Giancarlo Colelli, and Liliana Bădulescu

Among the papers presented, the priorities were:

  • Advanced postharvest technologies for fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals
  • Trends in quality of horticultural products (conservation, management, safety)
  • Effect of preharvest management on the quality of fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals
  • Biochemistry and physiology of postharvest fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals
  • Evaluation of quality and conservation of horticultural products (methods, non-destructive assessments, accreditations, policies, challenges)
  • Postharvest pathology, disease control, treatments, value addition
  • Postharvest management (technical, economic, and administrative aspects)
  • Modeling of biological systems, technological processes, and energy demands
  • Innovative packaging and new materials
  • Effect of horticultural product quality on human health
  • Sustainability of postharvest technologies

At the closing of the Postharvest Symposium, Giancarlo Colelli, President of the "Postharvest and Quality Assurance" division of ISHS from the University of Foggia, proposed including a division for artificial intelligence in the topics of interest for future editions.

Additionally, we take this opportunity to thank him for his words, highlighting the work of and in daily and weekly dissemination through their newsletters, mentioning our presence at scientific events and inviting researchers to use this option to share their work with technicians and producers who can implement their results.



The European Horticulture Congress (EHC) took place from May 12 to 16, 2024, in Bucharest, focusing on all aspects related to the production and postharvest of fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals. Abstract books are available at the link provided at the end of each section dedicated to the different symposia.

Florin Stanică, President of the EHC

Under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), the congress was organized by the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest and the Romanian Society of Horticulturists. Founded in 1913, the Romanian Society of Horticulturists is a professional organization divided into 40 sectors nationwide, encompassing fruit growers, horticulturists, and viticulturists.

The university, celebrating its 170th anniversary in 2022, played a significant role in the organization, with Florin Stanică from the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest serving as an enthusiastic president. He presented the candidacy in Angers and assembled an equally enthusiastic team to assist in organizing and developing the congress. Ana Butcaru, from the same university, managed the Secretariat of the EHC and patiently addressed questions from participants. Sorin Mihai Cimpeanu, the rector of the university, served as the president of the organizing committee.

The congress took place in the rooms of the Palace of Parliament, a spectacular construction from the Ceaușescu era, hosting the aforementioned 10 symposia dedicated to the history of horticulture in Europe, sustainable vegetable production, fruit production systems, vineyards and wine, berries, ornamentals, urban horticulture, genetic resources, robotics and mechanization, and postharvest and quality of horticultural products.

Visit to Ultragreens facility in the city of Ploiesti; on the right, their manager and founder, Cristian Tudor

Technical tours were conducted on the second day of the congress, providing an early networking opportunity and aligning in number and theme with the symposia. The quality of organization was highlighted throughout the congress, evident in numerous details, including well-planned opening and closing ceremonies. Each technical tour was accompanied by its own brochure detailing scheduled visits. A gala dinner in the Palace, originally built in 1702 by Constantin Brâncoveanu and housing a museum open to congress participants, featured classical and modern music, along with local and international cuisine, including Romanian wines, a principal product of the country.

The closing ceremony included recognition of young researchers, a topic Patricia Paiva from Universidade Federal de Lavras, MG, Brazil, addresses within ISHS.

The EHC congresses are successors to the Symposium on Horticulture in Europe (SHE). François Laurens, President of ISHS, emphasized the importance of these gatherings. The first EHC took place in 2008 and occurs every four years. Previous locations include Vienna in 2008, Angers (France) in 2012, Chania (Greece) in 2016, and Stuttgart (Germany), held online, in 2021.


The figures of EHC

The "family photo" of the Congress

More than 800 speakers 893 papers presented 425 oral presentations 468 posters 6 workshops 11 technical tours 10 symposia 2 plenary sessions and 6 invited speakers 400 m2 of exhibition space 24 exhibitors Most represented countries: Romania 227, Italy 119, Germany 41, Spain 35, Netherlands 27, Poland 26, Greece 24, France 23, USA 21, China 19

The enthusiastic and efficient cast of collaborators in the organization of EHC


The next EHC will be in Murcia

The next EHC will take place in Murcia (Spain); the participants enthusiastically accepted the proposal by researcher Francisco Pérez-Alfocea, CEBAS-CSIC, in a vote held during the closing session, where candidacies from Latvia and Serbia were also presented.

Francisco Pérez-Alfocea during Murcia's bid as the venue for the next EHC, which captivated the congress attendees; seated, François Laurent (left) and Florin Stanică.


Romania, a major plum producer

Romania is part of the Southeast Europe area, along with Bulgaria, Croatia, and Hungary, countries covering approximately 500,000 km2 (Spain has 506,030 km2) and sharing favorable soil and climate for agricultural production.

Data provided by the European Statistics Handbook, distributed at Fruit Logistica 2024.

Romania leads fruit production in this area with nearly 1.9 million tons (Spain, for the same year, 12.1) and 1.7 million tons of major vegetables (Spain, 9.5 million tons).

The main fruits produced in Romania are plums, apples, and watermelons. Cucumbers are the main exported vegetable.

Steluta ("little star") Farm, one of the visits during the post-congress tour of Transylvania, exemplifies fruit, vegetable, and ornamental production, valorizing its products through the production of various preparations (juices, jellies, etc.), direct sales, and agrotourism.

Its founder, Viorel Mitra, a university professor now joined by his son in management, has a warehouse equipped with Unitec machinery for cherry processing, using modern techniques for artisanal processing.

The agrotourism aspect of Steluta Farms; the constructions reflect typical styles from different regions of Romania.

Viticulture for winemaking is crucial; both the Congress and technical tours and post-congress activities highlighted Romania's wine tradition and vineyard areas, particularly the "Moldova Wine Route," including visits to traditional Fetească albă varieties and the research estate in viticulture, Apoldia Maior. We were warmly welcomed with gastronomic delights by researchers, including wine tastings and artisanal products made on the estate.

This estate, a recent addition, is affiliated with the prestigious University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca, another stop during this tour.

Among the Southeast European countries mentioned, Romania is also the largest importer of fruits and vegetables. Bananas are the top product, followed by apples; tomatoes and onions are among the top vegetables, with Greece and Turkey being their main suppliers.

Exports are low, and among the four mentioned countries, Hungary exports the most. Romania's projections for 2022 were 1073 million euros for imports and 133 million euros for exports.


The main image is an overview of the room where the Postharvest Symposium took place; Randolph M. Beaudry from Michigan State University, USA, and Lourdes Arévalo-Galarza from Colegio de Postgraduados Campus Montecillo, Mexico, are in the foreground.

Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia Financiado por la Unión Europea