Accelerated Ripening and Aging
Ethylene (C2H4) is a plant hormone. Some plants require ethylene to initiate the ripening process. Other plants do not require ethylene to ripen. Some types of produce generate large amounts of ethylene on their own. But most fruits and vegetables are sensitive to ethylene and so ethylene is a factor in how long produce can be stored and sold after harvest.
Even at extremely low concentrations in the air, ethylene causes accelerated ripening and aging. In fact, ethylene can cause these effects at concentrations of 1 part of ethylene in 10 million parts of air!
One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch
Many plants produce ethylene themselves, which triggers the process of ripening throughout many tonnes of fruit. The old saying “One bad apple spoils the bunch” is in fact true – injured and damaged fruit produces more ethylene, causing spoilage in storage rooms and coolers. Ethylene production increases as temperature and respiration increase. Besides the ethylene produced by the produce itself, ethylene is generated by forklift and truck engines, electrical equipment, rotting produce, smoke, and rubber.
Ethylene has been scientifically proven to cause:
- Increase in respiration
- Water loss
- Yellowing or spotting
- Production of more ethylene
- Accelerated ripening, ageing
- Reduction in nutrient content (e.g. loss of vitamin C)
- Taste and aroma changes, off-flavours such as bitterness
- Loss of leaves and flowers, sprouting, toughening
The Result: Exposure to ethylene shortens the shelf life of fresh produce by speeding up the process of ripening and decay.