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Washington state is the #1 producer of fresh market apples, pears and sweet cherries in the U.S. Approximately 1/3 of this production is exported to foreign markets. The best mode of shipping fresh market fruit is generally determined by distance, perishability, and the value of the product. Modes of transportation can include truck, railcar, ship, and by air. Fruit is shipped domestically by truck or railcar to fresh-cut processors, national chain warehouses, and wholesale operations that supply local independent chains and foodservice, institutions, and restaurants. Air transport is used for high value, highly perishable produce to distant markets. Fruit quality will not improve during transit, so every effort must be made to maintain the cold chain and preserve fruit quality. This is especially true for sweet cherries which have the shortest shelf life.

Fresh fruit transport is regulated both at the state and federal level to insure both fruit quality and safety for consumers. Commercial shippers follow state, federal, and International regulations regarding fruit quality, food safety, and quarantine pests and diseases when arranging for transportation. Inspections are performed before and after shipments and at customs if crossing national borders.  The modes of transport are chosen based on distance to destination, size and weight of shipment, required temperatures, costs, and perishability of fruit. The logistics associated with getting fruit from the orchard to the market are complicated and it is essential to maintain fruit quality and safety at each step in the chain.  This may include preconditioning fruit or cooling to a particular temperature prior to shipping.  Temperature loggers may accompany shipped fruit for quality assurance purposes.

Transporters are required to maintain the integrity of the lot identification and trace-back system, and enforce proper hygiene to maintain food safety. Trucks need to be inspected, and must meet high standards of cleanliness. Trucks that handled animals or animal products must be cleaned and sanitized.  Proper temperatures need to be maintained, and fruit must be loaded and transported in a way to minimize damage.  Potential inclement weather on the transport route needs to be considered, as fruit may be exposed to extreme heat or cold during shipping. The Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) governs interstate movement of produce. Fruit may only be shipped interstate from packinghouses that operate under a signed APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) packinghouse compliant agreement. For fruit that is shipped outside the U.S., the Phytosanitary Certificate Issuance and Tracking (PCIT) system tracks the inspection of agricultural commodities and certifies compliance with plant health standards of the importing country. This capability provides USDA/APHIS/PPQ (Plant Protection and quarantine) better security, reporting functions, and monitoring capabilities for exported commodities. Any shipments exported internationally are also subject to the agreements established between the receiving country and USDA.

Logistics and Regulatory Links

View information regarding commodity inspections, contacts, regulation links, and minimum grade and size requirements at the WSDA Trucker’s Reference webpage.

Compliance information can be found on WSDA’s Certification of Compliance & Permit Program (C2P2) webpage.

Information about sanitary transportation of food can be found at this FDA Food Guidance and Regulations website.

Link for the USDA APHIS Application Access portal used for Phytosanitary Certificate Issuance & Tracking System (PCIT).

Information about maximum tolerances for fruits and vegetables using various modes of transportation can be found in this USDA document:  The F.O.B. (Free on Board) Good Delivery Guidelines

Download this USDA guidance document: Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck (v2008)

Additional information regarding the Fair Trading Regulations on the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act can be found on the USDA PACA website.

Information about the logistics of maintaining the cold chain can be found at the Geography of Transport Systems website.

Washington State University