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Guidelines on quality improvement of Black Pepper

The need to improve the quality of our pepper is not a matter that just concerns only the farmer and the trader, but is of great importance to the entire nation.

Important steps to be taken in the harvesting, processing and storage of pepper 

The quality of product depends on the quality of raw materials, the methods used in processing and the packaging and marketing practices. Therefore, in order to ensure quality of the product, constant care should be maintained from the time of harvesting till the time it reaches the consumer.

Harvesting - some critical aspects

Only fully ripe pepper should be plucked from the vines for marketing of dried pepper. Only clean, cement or concrete floors should be used for threshing the plucked pepper spikes. Never do the threshing on floors smeared with cowdung.

Green pepper contains 75-85% moisture. It is best to use plastic or aluminium vessels to handle green pepper. Bamboo trays smeared with cowdung, old gunny bags etc. are sure sources of contamination.

Processing - One minute in boiling water

If, before drying, the harvested green pepper is subjected to a processing technique developed by the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, the colour and quality of the product can be improved significantly. Any farmer can quite easily adopt this technique.

Boil water in a suitable vessel. Put the green pepper into a basket in the boiling water. Keep the pepper in the boiling water for one minute. Dipping in boiling water causes certain chemical changes in the pepper. Disinfection also takes place simultaneously. The pepper treated thus can be dried in three or four days if there is enough sunlight.

This processing technique has several advantages:

  • the dried pepper gains uniform black colour
  • the pepper is rid of microbes
  • the pepper can be dried in 3-4 days as against 5-6 days required when following the traditional practice
  • the pepper treated in this manner is free from dust.

Why control the moisture content

The moisture content in well-dried pepper is never more than 11 %. Scientists of the Central Food Technological Research Institute stipulate that the optimum moisture content is 10.5%. If the moisture content is too high pepper will be susceptible to fungal attack. Poisonous substances secreted by the fungi render the pepper will be susceptible to fungal attack. Poisonous substances secreted by the fungi render the pepper unfit for human consumption.

Hygiene - environment and personal

  • Premises used to dry and store pepper should be clean and hygienic and free from dust, cobwebs, undesirable foreign matter like excreta of animals and birds, bits of stone etc. It is essential that the premises be cleaned daily.
  • The premises should be fenced off using nylon or other netting to keep off birds. The storage area should be closed off by plastered walls of suitable height to avoid the entry of rodents. Openings in the walls should be covered with metal grills.
  • Persons engaged in threshing, sifting etc of pepper should clean their hands and feet with soap and water before they start their work. Vessels and utensils used in processing and storage should always be kept clean. They should never be allowed to be soiled by dust or other impurities or contaminated by pests.
  • Gutters and other water outlets connected to platforms used for drying pepper should always be maintained in a clean condition.
  • Only clean bamboo trays should be used for sifting pepper. These trays should never be smeared with cowdung.
  • Precautions should be taken to see that the clean and sifted pepper is not recontaminated by dust and other impurities.

Points to be observed in the storage of pepper

  • Only pepper whose moisture content is between 10 and 11 % should be packed in sacks for storage. The sacks should be new, clean, dry and free from any contamination.
  • Other substances should not be stored in store-rooms or godowns where pepper is kept.
  • Graded or garbled pepper should be kept separately. This means that ungraded pepper should not be kept in godowns where sorted pepper is stored.
  • While stacking pepper-filled sacks in godowns, wooden planks should be used on the floor as dunnage. This is to prevent moisture from the floor affecting the pepper. The sacks should be kept at least 30cms away from the walls.
  • If any of mechanical device is used to clean and sort pepper, care should be taken to see that ejected dust, pieces of stone etc do not get into pepper that has already been cleaned and graded.
  • Doors, windows and ventilators of rooms in which pepper is kept should always be kept closed. No cracks should be left unattended, as rats and other pests are capable of getting into store rooms even through the smallest openings. It is better that the steps leading upto the storage area are of removable type. The use of stairs that can be put up and removed as and when required can effectively prevent the entry of rats. It is desirable to have rodent repellent devices in the godowns.
  • Pests control practices should be followed systematically. Use of pesticides and chemical fumigants should be limited to the correct dosage and should be applied only under the supervision of experts.
  • If residues of pesticides a-re found in the pepper, such lots will be rejected by importing countries and the exporters will have to bear the heavy cost of reconditioning/cleaning such consignments.
  • Gunny bags used to pack pepper should not only be clean, but also have been subjected to proper treatment against infestation.

Apart from private entrepreneurs, public sector concerns are also now engaged in the export of pepper from India. Export of pepper is an area into which farmers' cooperatives too can venture. The Co-operatives can easily install common infrastructural facilities for processing, cleaning and packing of pepper for export. In this regard farmers may be able to mobilise support from the government too.

Limit of contaminants stipulated by importing countries

Pepper exported to USA shouId conform to the cleanliness specification stipulated by the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) and also the regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ASTA cleanliness specifications set limits for criteria such as number of dead insects in the sample analysed, amount of mammalian excreta, other excreta, percentage of weight of berries with mold and / or insect infestation and the extent of foreign matter present. Pepper imported into USA failing to meet these cleanliness specifications will be detained and subjected to reconditioning (cleaning to remove the defect). If defects cannot be removed by reconditioning the lot may be destroyed or sent back to the country of its origin. In addition to ASTA cleanliness specifications pepper imported to USA has to comply with the Defect Action Level of FDA as and when prescribed.

Pesticide Residue

FDA has surviellance programme to monitor for pesticide residues. The tolerance limits for pesticide residues are established by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FDA is responsible for enforcing safe levels ot pesticide residues in foods.

Source : Spices Board of India



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