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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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