International Produce Training

Asparagus- Wet Tips; Now a Defect

Because asparagus is a highly perishable commodity, the freshly harvested spears are either cooled quickly using a hydro-cooler, or through forced air cooling.

From the hydro-cooling process it is very possible the tips of the spears may appear wet, or even exude water when squeezed.  Although this may lead to an increased chance of decay, the mere fact the tips are wet was never considered a defect.  For the tips to be considered a defect, they had to be noticeably watersoaked or translucent, or they must be slimy, due to decay.

That policy has now changed.  The management of the USDA’s Fresh Products Inspection Branch has recently sent new inspection instructions to all their fresh fruit and vegetable inspectors directing them to score asparagus with wet tips as a defect.  This new defect will greatly affect all future asparaus inspections, as wet tips are very common, due to the cooling process.  The industry has accepted this cooling practice for years, and the wet tips usually dry up in storage, never causing any problems.  I’ve never encountered anyone from the wholesale side of industry complaining of their asparagus having wet tips.  On the contrary….asparagus is prone to shriveling and moisture pads are used in the bottom of asparagus crates and cartons to provide moisture to the spear.  As long as asparagus is kept at the proper
temperature (32 to 36°F), the moisture is a non factor.  Apparently the USDA disagrees.

With the tip being darker in color, as shown by the spear on the right, from being wet,  is now to considered a defect.  If the wet tip exceeds an area of 1/4 inch, it is to be scored as damage….if the the wet area exceeds an area of 1/2 inch, it is to be scored as serious damage.  Seriously.

Will the wet/watery tips lead to decay?  Maybe…..but if they dry out in storage, they may be just fine.

What is next on the USDA agenda?  Will they consider wet areas on a cantaloup a defect, wet spots due to pack ice on broccoli?  Apparently they are marching to their own agenda, and growers/shippers are not on their agenda.  If you would like voice your concern with this recent decision, please contact 202-720-2011, to contact the Assistant Chief of the Fresh Products Branch, or by email:

6 Comments on “Asparagus- Wet Tips; Now a Defect”

Paul Manol Says:

Wet tips? Oh come on! As a former USDA inspector, Officer-in-charge, standardization specialist, and trainer at the USDA Training and Development Center, I’ve never heard of such a thing! If the wet tips are caused by decay is one thing, but simply being “wet” does not constitute a defect nor is it a precursor of bad things to come.

Open up a refrigerated trailer on a hot, humid summer day in any market in the world, and I’ll all but guarantee you that the tips of the asparagus will be wet (from condensation) by the time the trailer is unloaded. Further, with this inane decision by the Fresh Products Branch brain trust (or brain “thrift”), all any unscrupulous receiver need do is lightly spray a load of “grass” with water or a mister and they will have created nearly 100% defects (in a load of asparagus where most likely nothing is wrong at all). Asparagus growers and shippers (and their transport companies) should be going nuts over this decision.

How does a government agency keep making one inept, inane decision after another like this? More importantly, why does the produce industry allow it? Could it be that the industry simply doesn’t feel FPB is relevant any longer?

Anonymous Says:

We stopped using the USDA inspection service years ago. Our trained staff handles all inspections. The inspection fees, the mileage charges, and lousy service made this move easy.

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C. Brown Says:

What causes “Flabby” in asparagus?

tyawman Says:

Dehydration is the major cause of asparagus becoming flabby. It is common for asparagus to be packed with moisture pads to prevent the spears from drying out, becoming shriveled or flabby. Dehydration may be caused from being held too long in storage, or if they are exposed to fans that dry out the spears.

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