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.
In order to maintain the highest level of quality, apples must be transported at the same temperature they were at in the cold storage facility (30-32℉). Regardless of the mode of transportation, the conveyance must use thermostatically controlled temperature to prevent freezing or overheating. The truck or other container must be refrigerated and capable of holding air temperatures not to exceed 40℉. Relative humidity should be maintained around 90-95%. Apples cannot be shipped with mixed loads of commodities such as onions, cabbage, etc., because they absorb odors. They produce ethylene so they should not be shipped with products sensitive to this gas. Most apples are shipped in fiberboard boxes, loose-packed, on molded trays, or in polyethylene bags. To help protect a shipment from extreme weather situations, boxes should be stacked tightly together, in an offset pattern to reduce contact with floors and walls. Palletized loads should use center-loading to reduce contact with walls. Loads transported internationally may have additional requirements listed in the work plan documents for the specific country destination. Country work plan requirements can be found at the Northwest Horticultural Council website.
Apple Shipping Links
- WSDA Standards for Apples (Accessed: 1/19/17).
Trade Articles on Apple Shipping
- Year-end shipping reports to be required, Good Fruit Grower, August, 2014.
- Growers looking for more air cargo capacity at Sea-Tac, C. Corr, Good Fruit Grower, January, 2013.
Other Articles on Apple Shipping
- Getting it here, getting it out, C. Pratt, Wenatchee World, June, 2013.
- Produce transportation guidelines assist industry and reduce disputes, with link to the guideline document, Western Farm Press, January, 2012.
For European-type pears it is important to consider time in transit and on the supermarket shelf in order to determine the best firmness for each situation. Retail or wholesale organizations that are receiving conditioned pears from their pear supplier should ensure that there is timely, accurate, and ongoing communication between supplier and receiver. For example, a supermarket may want a lower firmness if fruit has less travel time and will be on the shelf sooner after ripening. Pears will continue to ripen even when refrigerated. However, the closer the fruit is kept to 32°F (0°C), the slower they will ripen. It is important to bring the temperature of the fruit rapidly back down after conditioning, as warmer temperatures will hasten ripening. Cooling should occur within 24 hours after conditioning.
It is also important that receivers (retailers and wholesalers) and/or quality control (QC) personnel understand that the supplying company is on a conditioned pear program and they may receive fruit that has a lower pressure upon arrival than they are used to seeing.
For more information about storing and conditioning pears, please refer to the USA Pears Handling Manual. (Accessed: 1/19/17).
Sweet cherries should be cooled to below 5oC by 4 hours after harvest and low temperatures maintained throughout packing, storage, and transport. Room cooling, forced-air cooling, and hydro-cooling are all used to cool sweet cherry fruit. Of these, hydro-cooling is the most rapid, and chlorine compounds can be added to the hydro-cooler water to reduce decay potential. Low temperatures minimize quality loss as well as physiological and pathological disorders. Cherries continue to respire after packing which in turn, generates heat. For this reason, cherries have a relatively short storage life even with maintaining low temperatures. Shipments that must travel great distances via a container truck or by sea are at special risk for quality loss. A recent study conducted by researchers for the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, B.C., Canada looked at the importance of maintaining the integrity of the cold treatment from harvest to market. (HortTechnology article link)
2017 was a record-breaking year for Washington cherry growers who produced over 27 Million 20-pound boxes of sweet cherries, or 270,000 tons (NASS 2018) for an estimated value of $474,579,000. Around 30% of the crop is exported outside the US, with Asia being the biggest importer (generally lead by China and South Korea), Europe is a distant second. An estimated 98% of the overseas shipping is via air freight.
Logistics and Regulatory Links
- WSDA Trucker’s Reference This site contains information regarding commodity inspections, contacts, regulation links, and minimum grade and size requirements. (Accessed: 1/19/17).
- WSDA’s Certification of Compliance & Permit Program Contains information about C2P2 compliance. (Accessed: 1/19/17).
- USDA APHIS Application Access portal Link used for Phytosanitary Certificate Issuance & Tracking System (PCIT). (Accessed: 1/19/17).
- Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck (v2008) Downloadable USDA guidance document. (Accessed: 1/19/17).
- USDA PACA Website containing information regarding the Fair Trading Regulations on the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. (Accessed: 1/19/17).
- Geography of Transport Systems Private industry website containing information about the logistics of maintaining the cold chain during transportation. (Accessed: 1/19/17).