We all depend on the cold supply chain daily for medicine, frozen foods, and produce. But it doesn’t just show up at our local grocers magically. This supply chain flows from farmers to packaging and shipping companies, then to wholesalers or retailers, and finally to us – the end consumer. The supply chain can be surprisingly long if you don't buy locally, and the goods still need to be fresh despite the length.
The first step in transporting produce involves examining the fruits and vegetables to select which ones are sturdy enough to endure shipping. Produce that looks perfect, free from damage and bruising, and that is under-ripe is then selected for transport over long distances using frozen gel packs, and sometimes dry ice, to prevent spoilage.
Next, transporters must select the best packaging for shipment. Fruits like apples, citrus, and pears that have hard skins are good for long travel because they are sturdy enough to handle it. Softer fruits like plums and peaches, on the other hand, have to be carefully packaged and handled carefully.
When selecting packaging, transporters must also consider factors like how to protect produce from temperature changes. Produce like watermelons are transported in trays, while tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers are shipped in wooden or plastic crates and packets. Other items like cauliflower are packaged in plastic bags. Some sturdier fruits like bananas are stacked in bunches and pineapples are packed in rows with the leaves facing up.
Once the produce has been selected and packaged, it is ready to be loaded and shipped. Transporters must be conscious of what they are shipping, as some fruits cannot be transported together. All fruits release a harmless gas called ethylene after being harvested, and each fruit releases the gas in different quantities. This gas causes certain fruits like tomatoes and peppers to ripen and spoil faster, so they must be kept separate from fruits that release the gas in large quantities.
Transporters must also consider where the cargo is going. Most countries restrict the transport of products across borders to prevent the spread of bacteria and plants that could damage their local ecosystems and thus have different rules and regulations for deliveries.
There are three main shipping options for transporting fruits over long distances including,
Air: The most expensive method, but necessary when the produce you are shipping has a short shelf life before spoiling.
Rail: Ideal for transporting products between several days.
Sea: Slower and more economical. Perfect for goods with a longer shelf life.
Challenges in transporting produce
Studies by the Logistics Bureau have shown that a staggering 33% of food is lost or wasted and that fresh produce spends about half of its shelf life in the shipping process. This food loss is mainly due to spoilage of the produce while it is being transported, as well as from damage that the fruits and vegetables endure that prevent them from being able to be sold.
Fruits like oranges, grapes, and cherries need to be stored at a temperature from 0 to 2 degrees Celsius and with 95% to 100% humidity. Items like garlic and onions, on the other hand, need to be kept at a similar temperature but at humidity levels from 65% to 75%, as high humidity is harmful to them.
Other produce like bananas, avocados, and mangos can be damaged by the cold, so they must be kept in the range of 13 to 15 degrees Celsius and between 85% to 90% humidity.
While the logistics of fresh produce are challenging and complex, monitoring each step of the process can ensure that the produce makes it to the end consumer safely and intact. Technology like data logging, and the cold chain process, make this possible and allow us to have the fruits and vegetables we enjoy on a daily basis.
Shipping goods and produce using our Ice Cold Gel Packs has less effect on the environment while ensuring your package arrives at the correct temperature. Visit our store for more information on how ICGP can help you with your shipping needs.