Fresh produce is an important part of any healthy diet, but shipping it comes with a heaping helping of challenges. Fruits and vegetables move through a complex supply chain, starting with farmers, packaging, domestic or international transportation, wholesalers, retailers, and finally, to the end consumers’ plate.
Produce isn’t usually locally grown. Consumer needs and market demand have long surpassed any region’s ability to grow all the fruit demanded each day. The United States imported $18.9 billion worth of fruit in 2021 and usually shipped $6 billion worth of fruit to the rest of the world each year. It all moves either by truck or by air.
The Challenges of Exporting Fruit
The song “Eastbound and Down” was released in 1977, which included the lyrics “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” That summarizes the journey fresh fruit takes to make it to the produce aisle.
The primary challenges are picking it at the right time, packaging it correctly, maintaining the right temperature in transport, and handling fruit properly.
How to Keep Fruit Safe During Transport
A primary goal in fruit transportation is avoiding injury. Fruits need access to fresh, circulating air to avoid growing mold, and they need to be packaged correctly, or sometimes even individually wrapped, so they don’t bruise.
The packaging looks different for different fruits. Sometimes, it gets transported in cardboard, other times fruit needs a plastic container with holes cut out, and certain fruits require a wooden crate. Fruits like pineapples and bananas can be individually stacked.
Transporting fruit once packaged isn’t as straightforward as loading a set of crates into a truck. Produce must stay refrigerated for its entire journey. But did you know that different fruits must be kept at different temperatures? The temperature and humidity requirements of mangoes would cause raspberries to spoil.
Instead, fruits with similar requirements might get loaded onto a refrigerated truck called a reefer that is equipped with a cooling unit programmed to a particular temperature. In that scenario, a truck must run on a tight schedule and be closely monitored to ensure it stays in the proper temperature range the whole time. It also requires frequent inspections to check for pooling liquid or other problems.
Another option is air transport. This is the fastest method of transportation and can move produce quickly when there’s a short shelf life in question.
Temperature Sensors to the Rescue
One of the most significant developments in the produce shipping world is temperature sensors and real-time monitoring. A small sensing device is placed on a shipment, which collects and transmits temperature data throughout a transportation journey. When there’s a problem, such as a broken seal or exposure to ambient temperature, shippers find out about it immediately.
Transporting fruit isn’t a static business. Each year, producers and transportation providers have to review and update their best practices. One way this happens is by gathering at the Global Produce and Floral Show. Once again, Able Freight will have a booth right in the center of the action. We hope you’ll visit us! We can’t wait to discuss the latest in transportation technology and strategies.