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Of the different freight line hauls, moving temperature-sensitive goods like fresh produce is probably the most challenging, considering the efficiency and strict operational controls that govern this freight. Despite the caution exerted, an average of 30-40% of the food transported ends up as waste or refuse. Most of this wastage occurs in the transportation process, and although a portion of it can be avoided, the authority can be out of the shippers’ control.

Regardless, produce shipping can be seamless if the parties involved improve their processes. If done right, consumers have more produce available to them at fair prices, and farmers have better support and can sell more of their products. However, getting it right can be challenging, especially considering the perishable nature, safety and compliance protocols.

For instance, ensuring the freshness of produce through the end-to-end supply chain is crucial. This involves getting the right temperature control. If there is a slight change in temperature (hot or cold), you could have damaged or unsellable produce by the time the freight gets to its destination.

Although the picture sounds scary, there are best practices you can embrace to ensure your entire produce shipping operation is efficient and cost-effective.

Understanding Produce Specifics

There are different categories of food produce. Each has unique characteristics that require unique handling throughout the shipping process. Exploring some of them will give you an idea of how to handle or store them.

1. Ethylene Emitters: These fruits and vegetables (for example, apples) contain and release ethylene gas as they ripen. But this gas triggers ripening in nearby produce, especially ethylene-sensitive ones. It forces you to store them separately from ethylene-sensitive items like greens.

2. Climacteric vs. Non-Climacteric: Some fruits will continue to ripen after they have been plucked, while others will not. These are known as climacteric and non-climacteric fruits. A banana is an example of a climacteric fruit, and a strawberry is an example of a non-climacteric food. If you want to reduce waste, you will have to pluck non-climacteric fruits at peak freshness and waste no time getting them to the consumers.

3. Tropical Delights: These are fruits that ripen from the outside in and could give off the impression that they are “riper”  than they actually are, which can lead to panic selling if not properly noted. A typical example of this is a mango fruit.

4. Living Vs Dormant: Some produce, like potatoes, are still very much alive long after they have been harvested, and this will often lead to sprouting, which can be a pain. To prevent this, store in a well-ventilated and dark place. Other fruits that do not do this are known as dormant.

Some other types or characteristics of produce are gassy greens and delicate dancers. Knowing how each of these works can greatly improve the profitability and efficiency of the shipping process.

Because produce differs in specification, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We gave an example earlier of how a potato will require a well-ventilated and dark room; otherwise, you may expect some sprouting. And it will be difficult to transport them alongside apples. Understanding these characteristics or specifications can optimize storage, prevent or minimize damages, and reduce the cost of the entire shipping operation.

Ten Best Practices for Effective Produce Shipping

Produce shipping can be a very complex process. However, the upside can be very attractive if and when done right. Here, we discuss some of the best tips that will help you enjoy an effective, efficient, and profitable produce shipping operation.

1. Select the Right Packaging

Packaging is a very important concept in the supply chain and one that significantly impacts the success of any food shipping operation. When selecting the right packaging, there are a few factors to consider, such as the nature of the produce, sustainability, and usability of the packaging material, impact resistance, and moisture control. Ultimately, you want packaging that will help protect and preserve your produce from source to the consumer’s table.

2. Temperature Control and Monitoring

Temperature control is critical, especially when the produce is sensitive to temperature changes. Different produce will require different temperatures, so making provisions for them is important. You want to ensure a stable temperature throughout the journey, but at the same time, you may not be able to do that on-site. It will actually be difficult to pull off, depending on the temperature. This is why you need a temperature monitoring tool that alerts you of any change throughout the shipping process.

3. Efficient Loading and Unloading Practices

Efficiently loading and unloading your produce is another great way to prevent damage and spoilage. However, it can get tricky, especially considering the human element involved in the process.

Here are a few tips to consider when loading and unloading your produce.

  • Implement the first in, first out strategy. This simplifies the loading process and ensures fewer mistakes or damages.
  • You want to distribute the weight of the produce evenly throughout the trailer base. This will help you prevent crashes, tipping, and falling over of the produce.
  • Stack the produce evenly. To do this properly, use a dunnage to stabilize the load.
  • Material handling is an important aspect of the food supply chain. Therefore, it is imperative to use relevant tools and equipment in the unloading process to reduce damages.

4. Optimizing Transportation Routes

No matter how effective and protected the shipping vehicle is, getting your produce from source to destination in the shortest time possible is a better solution. This means choosing the best route that will take the shortest time. To do this effectively, you will need tools and software that consider factors like distance, time, traffic, security, and environmental impact when choosing the right route. Thanks to technology, this is possible, and many products offer this solution.

5. Regulatory Compliance and Safety Standards

Fresh food arguably is the number one product in the world. However, it is susceptible to contamination, which can harm consumers. Many serious regulations and safety standards are in place to prevent this, and non-compliance with any of them can harm your business. If not adhered to properly, you can pay for this in sanctions and lose customers’ trust, impacting sales and business.

6. Implementing Real Time Tracking Systems

Another key aspect of an effective produce-shipping operation is the ability to monitor and access real-time information on the transportation process. This usually entails real-time tracking, which can be done through communication with drivers or onboard staff and using GPS or other monitoring systems. Real-time tracking is essential in ensuring visibility and transparency in the shipping process.

7. Proactive Communication With Carriers

Staying proactive, relevant, and communicating effectively with the carriers is important, especially if you want visibility and transparency. Just like the previous point, it is essential for real-time information and allows prompt response to issues in the shipping process. You must have a strong relationship with these carriers to do this effectively. Here are some tips for building such relationships: fair pricing, effectively communicating your expectations, and flexibility.

8. Regular Training and Updates

People are a very big part of any logistics and supply chain operations. And the produce shipping process is no exception. However, the process is constantly changing and evolving. Without training and regular updates, a business can get left behind. Regular training and updates of the entire produce supply chain help keep the people effective and more efficient. It also reduces damages and mistakes, ultimately costing your food supply chain less money in the long run.

9. Dealing with Unexpected Challenges

Logistics and shipping are quite complex operations prone to several risks. Considering the current insecurity climate, it is not far-fetched to anticipate unfavorable outcomes during a shipping operation. You can do more than anticipated, though. You can set up systems and processes to handle issues like delays, spoilage, and accidents. For more critical issues, you can set up contingency plans that ensure that, at the very least, the operation is not hobbled and you don’t lose money in the process.

10. Sustainability in Produce Shipping

Considering how important the produce is to people and businesses, making the entire shipping process as sustainable as possible makes sense. With sustainability, you can access cheaper and reusable materials, but more importantly, you also have customer loyalty. After all, 66% of consumers consider sustainability when making a purchase.

How to Get Your Produce Shipping Right

Produce shipping is an essential operation for people and the economy at large. Getting it right is very important, and the best practices highlighted in this article are a great way to get started. However, you don’t have to go at it alone. The thing about produce shipping is that you want to partner with a carrier that knows what they are doing, and there is no one better than LGI. With years of experience under our belt and providing logistics services to over 1,500 companies, you are definitely on the right track when you partner with us.

Our services include special care shipping (refrigerated freight shipping and hazmat truck), heavy haul, OTR trucking, and drayage. We are always available to get your product from source to destination across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Request a free quote today to get started.