Notes from a distributor

Q&A with MaryKay Skrypec, SVP of innovation and quality, U.S. Foodservice.

Q. What issues and challenges do restaurants face today when purchasing fruit?

A. Operators want more variety than ever before. Quality, product size, ripeness, flavor, color, efficient pack sizes for the restaurant’s volume, delivery schedules—these can all limit choices. For agricultural products, operators must also make sure that food safety programs are an integral part of the supply chain.

Q. How can operators source the best product?

A. They should ask questions related to usage, stage of ripeness, storage (capacity and temperatures) and ordering lead times. Each fruit has a critical temperature and humidity point above which it will ripen too quickly and below which the cell structure can deteriorate. The best suppliers and distributors have commodity specific storage rooms in their warehouses where they can hold fruit under optimum conditions—restaurants just aren’t equipped with these facilities. To maximize product quality, have your vendor manage your inventory and make frequent fruit deliveries.

Q. Once the fruit is delivered, what are some general storage and handling guidelines operators should follow?

A. Keep the fruit in its original protective package; it should be made of heavy corrugated paper designed to prevent crushing and bruising. Rotate product so it’s in the kitchen for minimal time. Most fruit should be held at 32 to 40°F; melons, oranges, lemons, papaya and pineapple do best at 40 to 50°F; bananas, grapefruit, limes, mangos and watermelon should be kept at room temperature.

Q. Have there been recent advances in cold chain management?

A. “Temperature tales” from a company called Sensitech monitor and record the temperature of fruit in transit—from the supplier, to the truck, to the loading dock and warehouse. If the temperature fluctuates, it’s immediately noticed and can be adjusted. This helps control perishability and maintain quality and food safety.

Q. What are the pros and cons of fresh vs. frozen fruits?

A. Certain restaurants use more fresh fruit since they feel it adds to their reputation, flavor profiles and flexibility. For operators whose food costs are not a significant factor, fresh fruit is often the top choice. Other operators prefer to use more frozen product to alleviate time and labor constraints. Frozen fruits also offer more consistency in cut and yield, plus they can be stored and “slacked out” over a fairly consistent time period.

Q. What steps assure food safety?

A. Operators should look for distributors who place a high priority on food safety, instituting proper cold-chain management, dependable HACCP programs and effective traceability and recall procedures. It’s essential to maintain the safety and quality of fruits across all distribution channels. A program must evolve as we learn from recent events [i.e. the E.coli outbreak] and try to stay ahead of newly identified risks.

Future fruit 

Innovations in fruit production, processing and packaging are impacting the industry. These are some trends to watch:

  • Polymer-based packaging technology. A customized membrane controls the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels within a package to maintain optimum conditions for a particular fruit. Right now, the packaging is being used to extend the shelf life of bananas.
  • Value-added fresh fruit. Pre-washed grapes, sliced apples, sliced oranges and pineapple spears are some of the convenient forms available to foodservice.
  • RFID tags for tracking. Packers are using radio frequency ID labels on pallets and cases of fruit to aid in product rotation and traceability.
  • Fun fruits. Market researcher Datamonitor reports the 2006 launch of several fresh fruits with unexpected properties. Grapple Sweet Apples look like regular apples but taste like Concord grapes; Fizzy Fruit sparkling grapes and pineapples are naturally carbonated to intensify flavor and effervescence; and watermelons are being forced to grow in a square shape for easier transport and storage.