Shipping fresh produce is often a very time-sensitive process.
The produce your company wants to ship or receive may be highly perishable or last for months after picking. Either way, intermodal freight transport can help get that produce where it needs to be. Using trucks, ships, and trains, the extent of the intermodal freight network is truly global.
Keep reading to learn more about shipping fresh produce using intermodal freight transport. We’ll briefly review what intermodal shipping is. Then, we’ll look at intermodal freight transport in the context of shipping produce. That includes special equipment, streamlining shipping timelines, and more.
What is Intermodal Freight Transport?
In simple terms, intermodal freight transport is a network that can bring freight across the globe. It supports import and export shipments, as well as shipments within a single country.
What distinguishes intermodal shipping from other types of freight transport? There are a few unique qualities that help to define this part of the supply chain:
- Standardization. All intermodal shipments are packed in standardized containers. This makes it possible to use multiple methods of transport to carry those containers to their final destination. Standardization also supports efficiency at ports, railyards, and similar locations.
- Using multiple modes of transport. Intermodal means “being or involving transportation by more than one form of carrier during a single journey.” Using ships, planes, trains, and trucks to carry intermodal containers is the foundation of this part of the supply chain.
- No direct cargo handling. Intermodal containers remain sealed throughout their journey. This makes shipping more efficient, from actual handling and transit to complying with customs regulations.
Intermodal containers can spend weeks or even months in transit. They may sit exposed to the sun and ambient temperature on a ship, or stacked at an intermodal port. How can you ship fruits and vegetables, which can be very perishable, in these conditions?
Specialized equipment plays a key role in intermodal freight transport when shipping fresh vegetables and fruit. Containers are standardized in terms of sizes and function in intermodal transport. However, there are options within those standard forms to better protect perishable cargo.
Controlling temperature and humidity is crucial for preventing spoilage, maintaining food safety, and delivering a product customers want to buy.
Refrigerated containers, commonly called reefers, help to keep perishable produce at the optimal temperature in transit. These containers include a cooling unit that connects to power sources on vehicles and at intermodal ports.
Reefers can be set to provide the correct temperature range for the type of produce being shipped. Ultimately, that means maintaining freshness and safety.
Other solutions for protecting produce in transit include specialized packaging that helps to insulate and stabilize the cargo. Dry ice, insulated foam, and similar cooling methods may also be used.
These tools help to extend the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables. They can also be used for temperature control with frozen items. Both refrigerated and frozen produce fall into the larger cold chain.
Shipping Fresh Produce in Intermodal Containers
It’s important to note that not every kind of produce is fit for extreme long-distance intermodal transport. Especially perishable produce, or produce that requires extremely delicate handling, may not be the best fit for intermodal.
The option of using intermodal transport to carry produce within the US is certainly worth considering in this context. Some produce may not stand up to long-haul journeys across oceans. Especially because those journeys are followed by rail and truck transport to its final destination.
However, Food Manufacturing explains that rail-based intermodal transport is a viable choice for shipments covering 500-1,000 miles. This won’t necessarily help with overseas imports. What it does offer is an efficient path for moving perishable produce within the country. Moving produce to and from Canada and Mexico is another possibility.
While intermodal transport isn’t a universal solution, it is an effective choice for shipping many types of fresh produce. Potatoes, onions, and citrus fruits are just a few examples of many items that can reliably be transported in intermodal containers.
Keeping Produce Safe During Shipping
Of course, this type of cargo is still food. It needs to be carefully controlled to ensure it can be sold or processed once it reaches its final destination.
In many, but not necessarily all cases, that means using a reefer container to control temperature. While some produce doesn’t require refrigeration or other special protections, that’s more of an exception than a rule.
Keeping produce cargo viable may also mean working with providers of food-grade warehousing services. These facilities help to keep perishable cargo safe, even when it’s not in a port or carried by a vehicle.
The Value of Customs Pre-Clearance
Customs clearance is a common cause of delays in the intermodal transport industry. However, businesses sending and receiving cargo don’t need their containers to wait in a port to go through this process.
An effective customs broker can help your business pre-clear its shipments. On a practical level, that can mean significantly shorter wait times once the cargo reaches its destination. There are forms, surety bonds, and many other potential needs that have to be considered.
The right customs broker has the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to anticipate and address those needs. That can lead to shipments spending less time in ports, which is crucial for shipping vegetables, fruits, and other perishable goods.
Port Drayage: The First and Last Step in Intermodal Shipping for Fresh Produce
The intermodal transport system connects to warehouses and other facilities through intermodal trucking, also called drayage. These trucks bring containers to ports to begin their journey, and deliver containers to their final destinations as well.
These trucks have specialized chassis for safely carrying intermodal containers. They also have power hookups for reefer containers, keeping temperature consistent throughout the journey.
Iraheta Bros. provides intermodal trucking and warehousing services for the Port of Oakland and surrounding areas. Want to learn more about moving your containers to and from the port?