As the watermelon loads roll in and out, we thought we’d interview the owner-operators of our third-party warehouse — D&D Lichter & Sons — to share industry best practices for handling our seedless fruit. David and Dorothy Lichter have been in business since 2011 and the company’s reputation for excellent in-and-out services holds true in our relationship.
At The Sykes Co., we believe that an effective quality assurance (QA) program — from production to end use — is essential for providing a consistently excellent supply of produce to the market and protecting the reputation of our labels.
A QA program always starts with genetics, which determine characteristics like appearance, texture, and flavor. Careful production, harvest, and handling practices at the farm are key for the best expression of these characteristics. Once the product arrives in Rio Rico, it becomes up to the warehouse and The Sykes Co. team to maintain the conditions that result in the highest quality fruit.
We sat down with David to discuss QA from his prospective and here’s what he told us.
What is the main characteristic of watermelon flavor most commonly linked with quality?
Definitely sweetness. Soluble solids above 10% as measured by a refractometer indicate a high quality melon. The combination of sunlight and warm temperatures at the farm is key for good sugar development. The Hermosillo region is generally a great area to grow watermelons. The timing of harvest is also important for good sugar content. A creamy yellow ground spot is a sign of proper harvest timing.
At what temperature should watermelons be stored?
Watermelons should be stored at 50-60 ˚F. Temperatures below 45 ˚F may cause chilling injury and reduced shelf life.
How do you measure texture?
Texture is not specifically mentioned in the USDA grade standards, but it is an important part of a good eating experience. The texture should be crisp and not mealy. It varies across varieties.
What do you look for in terms of color?
Rind and flesh color depend on the variety. A bright-red flavor is always a strong point. I also look for any signs up whiteheart, a hard white streak that runs through the flesh. If large enough, it can indicate a quality issue. Cool temperatures can reduce the red color and high temperatures can intensify it.
How do you assess size and weights?
I work with The Sykes Co. to understand their specifications and then check to make sure the product in the warehouse is aligned. There are certain genetics and environmental conditions that can impact fruit size, so the predominant sizes I see can vary from year-to-year.
What are the defects and diseases that the industry is faced with?
Sunscald and hollow heart are two defects that come up in the watermelon industry. A more serious disease, anthracnose, causes lesions that can spread. For this reason, growers always aim to leave this fruit out of the pack.
Generally what is the shelf life of watermelons?
Watermelons can last 2 to 3 weeks under proper storage conditions. Bruising during handling or transport reduces shelf life. Of course, we practice “first in first out” and coordinate daily with The Sykes Co., whose salespeople work to clean inventory before the next loads come in.