(July 7) A process to modernize lime and cucumber grade standards that are nearly 50 years old has begun, adding to the growing list of commodity grade standards the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reviewing.

Besides limes and cucumbers, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is considering updates to grade standards for greenhouse tomatoes, sweet potatoes, field-grown leaf lettuce, mangoes, sweet peppers and watermelon, said David Priester, standardization section head with the AMS Fruit and Vegetable Programs.

At a meeting of the 2003 Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, AMS was asked to review all the fresh fruit and vegetable commodities that may need a revision in their grade standards.

The USDA said it would take comments on changes to lime and cucumber grades through Aug. 24.

Priester said the process of changing the grade standards for the commodities could take six months to a year or longer.

The USDA’s grade standard for limes was last revised in 1958. The Federal Register notice said the grade standards for color and juice requirements in all the U.S. lime grades are “complex and cumbersome” to determine.

One importer of Mexican limes said he believes the lime grade standard should be revised, particularly relating to color.

Brian Hitchings, lime salesman for London Fruit Inc., Pharr, Texas, said Mexican limes are imported into the U.S. without a shipping point grade standard applied. There have been no minimum grade standards for imports to meet since the suspension of the Florida lime marketing order rules in 2002.

Florida’s lime marketing order was disbanded in 2003 because production had been whittled away, first by Hurricane Andrew and then by canker.

Hitchings noted receivers sometimes ask for a grade inspection for limes at destination.

Florida marketing order regulations had required minimum size (1 7/8 inches in diameter) and minimum juice standards (42% by volume) for imports as well as Florida limes.

Like limes, the cucumber grade standard was last revised in 1958, and the USDA said industry terms like super select, select, small, large and plain are currently not included in grade standards.

A revision of grade standards could allow those terms to be a part of revised grade standards, the USDA said.

Parties interested in commenting on revisions to either grade standard can write to the Standardization Section, Fresh Products Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 1661 South Building, Stop 024, Washington , DC 20250-0240.