Transport practices for blueberries
The transport of fresh products like blueberries generally takes place in (refrigerated) trucks, reefer containers or by plane. Checks and proper loading are always important to maintain good (temperature) conditions for the product during transport. For fresh products, refrigerated transport is often necessary. Trucks and reefers can maintain a low temperature, but do not have enough cooling capacity to lower the product temperature. Therefore, products must be pre-cooled before entering the refrigerated truck or reefer. During transport and waiting periods, the load must be well covered to protect against dust, sun and rain. Careful driving and careful product handling is essential to prevent damage to products due to mechanical action.
Optimal transport conditions
Blueberries are packed in open boxes or crates on the farm or packhouse in close distance to the farm. Timely transport to the farm or packhouse with pre-cooling facility is necessary as quickly obtaining a low temperature is essential for the keeping quality of blueberries. Pre-cooling of the product, usually to a temperature between 0 and 0.5 ºC, is absolutely necessary before the product enters the refrigerated truck for further transport. Blueberries for distant (export) markets are mainly shipped by sea due to their shelf life of up to 3 months, depending on their ripeness. Blueberries are often sorted and re-packed into smaller packages shortly before retail.
Attention points during loading and transport
Well-stacked crates of blueberries. Photo by Chizhevskaya Ekaterina/Shutterstock.com
Loading at the farmWhen collecting at the farm, the crates or other packages must be carefully stacked and tightened to ensure that they do not shift or fall over during transport. Ideally, the crates fit well between the sides of the truck. For larger trucks and for loads that do not fully occupy the truck floor, tightening must be done by placing (pallet-)edge protectors at the edges of a batch of stacked packages.
Cold tunnels at the loading dock. Photo by ANDREY FEDORENKO/Shutterstock.com
Loading after pre-coolingThe loading must be realized preferably from a climate-controlled loading dock via “cold tunnels” into the truck or reefer. This prevents ambient air from entering the pre-cooled reefer container or truck or the climate-controlled loading dock. Aside from maintaining the blueberries at the desired low temperature, this is important in order to avoid condensation, which will occur when warm moisture-laden air enters the reefer container or truck. Higher humidity or condensation may encourage the growth of moulds.
Temperature logging of blueberries is important for quality control. Photo by WUR
Temperature loggingThe cold chain should not be broken and is best contained in the range of 0 to 0.5 ºC. Lower or higher temperatures can easily result in loss of quality. Cooled blueberries that are re-warmed when the cold chain is broken may have condensation on the fruit. This will increase their susceptibility to fungal decay. Good quality control during transport includes temperature logging.
Blueberries are inspected after transport. Photo by Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock.com
Unloading at place of destinationUnload carefully to avoid handling damage. The pallets (or other packaging) with blueberries must be moved directly to a cold storage room. It is recommended to sample fruits for inspection at this point. Visual appearance of blueberries, but also of packaging and pallets can be documented by means of photos.