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Spectral and hyperspectral technologies as an additional tool to increase information on quality and origin of horticultural crops

Nowadays, consumer awareness of the impact of site of origin and method of production on the quality and safety of foods, and particularly of fresh produce, is driving the research towards developing various techniques to assist present certifications, traceability, and audit procedures. With regard to horticultural produce, consumer preferences have shifted to fruit and vegetables, which are healthy and ecologically produced, and toward processed foods having sustainable or social certifications and with sites of origin clearly reported on the label.

Some recent studies demonstrate the potentiality of near infrared (NIR) technology (including hyperspectral imaging) for discriminating fresh and processed horticultural products based on their composition, quality attributes, and origin. These studies principally mention that each biological tissue possesses a fingerprint NIR spectrum, which consists of a unique and characteristic pattern of radiation, distinguishing a particular biological tissue from physically and/or chemically different samples.

Particularly, recent studies discriminated apples, wine, wheat kernels, and derived flours based on their geographical origins. Spectral information allowed discrimination among growing methods (organic and conventional) for asparagus and strawberry fruits, and among harvest dates for fennels, table grapes, and artichokes. Moreover, information about freshness and storage days after minimal processing can be obtained. Recent literature and original results will be discussed.

From the researchers' perspective, present results suggest that these techniques may have a potentiality to increase information about product history, but if and only if the variability captured by the classification models is vast in terms of diverse samples belonging to various cultivars, varieties, harvest times, cultural practices, geographical origins, storage conditions, and maturity stages, while being used as a complementary method to the conventional ones―either to make an initial screening of critical features, or to add to the amount of available information. Lacking the inclusion of these parameters could result in good classification results, but the reliability of the classification in this case would be dubious in terms of assessment of the factor contributing towards correct classification.

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