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How Blueberries are transported around the world

Every year, over 20 thousand TEUs of blueberries are transported worldwide. Rated as one of the world’s healthiest foods due to its high level of antioxidants, blueberries have become a popular fruit that is a part of every healthy diet.

With much of the supply being exported from South America and South Africa, there is limited time to bring fresh blueberries to the North American and European markets. Consumers expect the very best produce while shopping and producers are constantly under pressure to deliver the best quality produce.

After fruits are harvested, the fruit is still “alive”. To transport these delicate commodities, an environment where the atmosphere is controlled, and the ripening process is slowed down is required. Without this process, fruits would ripen and quickly deteriorate. Just think of how fast bananas ripen when you take them home from the supermarket.

This is where Controlled Atmosphere Technology comes in. This technology is used to help these sensitive commodities travel longer distances, like those between Chile and Europe. Hapag-Lloyd typically uses its ExtraFresh technology to control the interior atmosphere of a reefer container to slow respiration so that the shelf life of fruits and vegetables can be extended.

This works for high respiring fruits such as bananas and avocadoes as the ExtraFresh technology relies on the fruit respiration to create the optimal atmosphere of oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrogen (N2).

Fruits like blueberries and lychees are even more sensitive. Knowing this Hapag-Lloyd has introduced ExtraFresh Plus. ExtraFresh Plus targets high-value, highly perishable but low respiring fruit like blueberries and lychees.

Blueberries are extremely sensitive and require an environment where the atmosphere is controlled and the ripening process is slowed down during the transport.

Much like ExtraFresh, ExtraFresh Plus’ goal is to slow the ripening and prevent gray mold and other decay-causing organisms. This allows shippers to ship their produce on longer journeys and enables them to reach new markets that were previously out of range due to the ripening process. ExtraFresh Plus ensures that the shipper delivers a higher quality of fruit to their customer when it arrives.

How ExtraFresh Plus works

To assist the cargo in reaching the optimum atmosphere, an initial gas mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen (N2) is first injected (flushed) into the container at a Hapag-Lloyd depot after the container is stuffed.

Many technologies currently available in the market rely on fresh air intake of oxygen (O2) to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) created from the respiring fruit inside the reefer. As the level of nitrogen (N2) inside the reefer is higher than the outside atmosphere, small amounts of nitrogen (N2) will also escape the container whenever vents open to help bring down the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the reefer.

Much like ExtraFresh, ExtraFresh Plus’ goal is to slow the ripening and prevent gray mold and other decay-causing organisms.

The only thing going into the reefer is oxygen (O2), which means that oxygen (O2) will replace the escaping nitrogen (N2). As a result, the nitrogen (N2) will inevitably decrease towards the atmospheric level outside of the container. The amount of oxygen (O2) going into the reefer is equal to the amount of nitrogen (N2) escaping from the reefer unit.

Consider the following example:

A container carrying blueberries is initially gassed to 85% nitrogen (N2) and 10% carbon dioxide (CO2) leaving 5% oxygen (O2) inside the container. At a respiration rate of 1% carbon dioxide (CO2) per day, which is not uncommon for blueberries, the oxygen (O2) would increase to over 9% in just 12 days to keep the carbon dioxide (CO2) from rising above the setpoint.

In comparison, ExtraFresh Plus has the capability to filter and remove the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere without increasing the oxygen level (O2) or decreasing the level of nitrogen (N2). The system is equipped with both oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors, which actively monitor the levels inside the reefer and ensures the technology maintains the correct levels. Having stable levels of both oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the key to providing producers, exporters, importers and buyers with fruit that can travel longer distances while maintaining the optimal quality.

Due to the ExtraFresh Plus technology sensitive fruits maintain the optimal quality even during a long journey.

For fruit exporters, technology such as ExtraFresh Plus keeps fruit in the best possible condition and will extend the shelf life of the product by up to as much as one and half weeks. This provides a win-win situation for the growers, exporters, importers and supermarkets by giving them an extended window where their produce can still be commercially viable.

At the same time, consumers are happy to have fresh fruit on their store shelves no matter the time of year.

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