Logistical solutions for shipping fresh produce

The logistics of moving fresh produce is a complicated one that demands seamless and simultaneous functioning of the entire supply chain.

Fresh produce logistics takes into consideration many factors such as temperature, humidity, package selection, among others to ensure the freshness of the products.

Transporting fresh produce involves dealing with a risky supply chain. Moreover, the risk of decomposition is an additional problem.

Fresh food logistics is a highly specialized sub-sector. It entails a lot of coordination among all the stakeholders of the project and the slightest delay in pickup or delivery could take a toll on the freshness of the cargo.

Most consumers make their purchase of fresh food from the stores based on the appearance of these items. Precisely for this reason, a forwarder's need to ensure the overall freshness of the items during the time of delivery.

Every year millions of dollars are wasted as the fresh produce rots during transit. According to a study by Logistics Bureau, every year a whopping 33 per cent of the fresh produce shipments get spoiled. Some of the main reasons that lead to spoilage are as below:

Humidity and temperature

The temperature and humidity have to be controlled to keep the cargo fresh.

Moreover, refrigeration is crucial as the slightest increase in temperature could result in the growth of fungus and bacteria. It is equally important to remember the right temperature and humidity level for each kind of fresh produce. For instance, oranges, cherries, grapes and other fruits require a temperature of 0-2 degrees C with a humidity level of 95 per cent-100 per cent.

However, items like onions and garlic require the same temperature but a lower humidity level.

Simply put, the temperature and humidity parameters for keeping the fresh produce safe are extremely cargo specific.

The biggest challenge in these kinds of shipments is the lack of data that shippers can use to rectify the anomalies before time to prevent the rotting of the food. Reefer trucks are ideal for inland movements of both flowers and fresh produce.

Damaged packaging

Another common problem with fresh produce shipment is the food waste due to impact damages.

If the cargo gets damaged during the shipping process, consumers are not going to buy it. Shocks, vibrations and other impacts during the transit process can damage the produce. This is why it is very important to pack the shipment properly.

Lack of visibility within the supply chain

Lack of data sharing among all the stakeholders of the shipment poses considerable challenges for shipping fresh produce.

This results in miscalculations in capacity planning, undependable forecasts and uncertainty. Therefore, a thorough idea about the products and their specific transportation requirement across the supply chain is vital. However, this is often impossible since the data is not properly shared. This often results in product damage or unnecessary delays.

High costs of maintenance

Right temperature conditions and quality packing are crucial for maintaining the freshness of this kind of cargo. This entails a lot of expenses making fresh produce logistics way more expensive than regular ones.

Security and safety

Fresh produce logistics require following lots of food safety regulations. These regulations include temperature, transportation, packaging recommendations, storage regulations, packaging facility and hygiene.

The trucks used for moving fresh produce products need to comply with ISO requirements.

Ensuring seamless transportation of fresh produce

One of the easiest ways to overcome the challenges of fresh produce logistics is to establish a clear and seamless chain of communication throughout the entire supply chain.

The competition posed by the multinationals, makes it imperative for small and independent forwarders to create a lean and controlled supply chain.

Ensure data transparency

On average, 43 billion pounds of fresh produce is wasted every year. This can be attributed to the lack of visibility within the supply chain.

The slightest delay in transportation or even minor temperature instability can drastically reduce the shelf life of produce. Lack of data transparency also results in miscommunications between the sellers, retailers and shippers.

A continuous flow of data among all the stakeholders of the shipping process is the only way to overcome this challenge.

Pay attention to the packaging

Selecting the right packaging is a crucial aspect of shipping fresh food. For instance, fruits like lemons, pears or apples can withstand a long transportation time. However, fruits with soft skins like peaches or plums need special care.

Items like watermelon are moved in trays, while cucumbers and onions are moved in crates.

Simply put, freight forwarders specialized in the transportation of fresh produce need to know the packaging requirements for all kinds of fresh produce.

Do not ship all fresh produce together

It is important to keep in mind that some fresh produce cannot be moved together. This is because most fruits and vegetables release a gas called ethylene on harvesting.

The quantity of gas released varies from fruit to fruit. Ethylene causes some items like peppers and tomatoes to ripen quickly. Quick ripening results in quick spoilage. Therefore, foods that release this gas in large quantities should be kept separate.

Optimize maintenance

Maintaining the reefers goes a long way to ensure the freshness of the produce. This is why it is vital to regularly maintain and clean the vehicles. Moreover, before loading the cargo, the trucks and even the cartons need an inspection to check for dirt, odor or fungus.

Lastly, it needs to be checked that the cargo moved in the vehicle previously didn't pose a contamination risk.

For instance, a truck that has recently moved meat or poultry needs special cleaning. Otherwise, it could contaminate the fresh produce.

We advocate for proper diligence on the freight forwarder that one chooses to transport sensitive cargo by importers and exporters.

The writer is a logistician at Airwagon Cargo Movers Ltd