How to Ship Fresh Produce: The Ultimate Guide

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The best way to ship fresh produce

Many people ask us how to ship fresh produce like wild leeks, tubers, leafy greens and much much more. Let’s face it, store-bought produce is nice to quickly grab and go home with, but the lack of variety and traceability is something that can make just about anyone squeamish. Shipping fresh produce, straight from the growing space to the consumer, is the freshest and fastest way to get produce if it isn’t immediately available to you. It’s also an excellent way to reach customers from all around the United States, not just locally around you, and can greatly increase your market reach. It has a reputation of being tedious, time-consuming and expensive, so a majority of sellers are quick to abandon it altogether. We hope that this article alleviates some of the misconceptions and questions surrounding shipping gourmet fresh produce. Keep reading to learn how to ship fresh produce quickly and easily from forest to table.

Step 1: Prep your box

A majority of produce can be shipped using a normal cardboard box that will fit the produce snug. Make sure the box that you use is large enough to fit the entirety of the produce, but small enough so that the contents don’t shift too much during transit.

Quick Tip: Shipping during a cooler part of the year? Simply ventilate your box prior to packing so that you can use the colder outside temperatures as a natural refrigerator. If you do this, there is no need for the ice pack and you may even be able to not use a foil liner. Easy peasy!

Step 2: Prep your produce

It’s important to harvest your produce as close to the shipping date as possible to maximize the freshness of the ingredients for the customer. Once harvested, store in a refrigerated source until ready for packing as close as possible to the time of transit. When ready, grab your produce and wrap it in a moist paper towel to maintain a damp environment during transit. During tests, we’ve found this to be the best way to maintain freshness.

Please note: This particular example had the tips of the onions sticking out. Generally speaking, you need to wrap the produce in its entirety to avoid it becoming dried out. 

Prep your produce gif

Warning!!! Do not over-soak your produce. 

A damp paper towel is the perfect amount. This allows your produce to not get too dried out and it will allow it to arrive fresh and ready for consumption/use. We recommend cleaning the produce prior to wrapping it up. Just give it a quick rinse under some cold water to remove dirt and debris.

After it’s been wrapped in a moist paper towel, place your produce in a plastic bag or compostable produce bag that will allow no moisture to escape. Paper-based bags have a tendency to dry out the produce during transit but can still be used if you would like to avoid single-use plastics. Ensure that there is ample moisture within the produce if so. The perfect balance of moisture is key for optimum freshness upon arrival. Loosely seal the bag so that fresh air can get in. Sealing the bag completely can cause the produce to spoil more quickly.

Step 3: Package it up

Place a foil liner in the bottom of your box and add your freshly wrapped greens to the bottom of the liner. If you are adding multiple bags of produce, you can just stack them on top of each other. Make sure to leave room for an ice pack if necessary. Again, this particular example used Onions which have a very long chute. Normally, the bags will be lightly sealed and no loose produce will be touching the inside of the liner.

Feeling the heat?

If the produce is being shipped during the hottest parts of the season or if it is going to a location that is known to be very warm, it is a good idea to add an ice pack to your foil liner to keep the temperature as cool as possible. If it is cold/cool out, use the weather to your advantage and make sure there is proper ventilation to the cooler outside temps. It acts as a natural refrigerator. If this is the case, you won't need an ice pack and you may be able to do-away with the foil liner to save on packaging costs. Only do this if outdoor temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, add some sort of cushioning to the box so that your sealed contents do not bounce around and get crushed. This can be paper-based, plastic bubble wrap or even air-bags as seen in the example below. Some eco-friendly solutions would be old paper, recycled packaging from other shipments, bubble wrap from other projects or even crumpled-up paper bags that are laying around.

This part is absolutely crucial! If you don’t add padding to your shipment, then you run the very real risk of the package being jostled around and the weight of the contents essentially squishing itself. 

Reduce, reuse recycle!

If you are going to be shipping out quite often, or if you know that you will be shipping products in the future, it is always a good idea to save old packaging from other purchases such as bubble wrap, liners or boxes. It allows you to save money, help the environment and reduce the amount of single-use plastics that are necessary for the shipment.

Step 4: Tape it up and send it off

Once packaged, seal up your box and print out your shipping label from the Foraged Seller Dashboard. We only recommend using UPS Next Day Air in the summer months due to the heat that rapidly deteriorates fresh produce. It’s also a great idea to keep the product in the best condition possible so that the customer is extremely pleased with their purchase. In the colder months UPS Second Day Air is a good option as well since the outside air acts as an external refrigerator (if the box is properly ventilated). Any transit longer than 48hrs is a huge risk when shipping fresh produce as they can either mold or get slimy. This deteriorates the product significantly. The sooner they arrive, the fresher they will be. Once you have entered the package details, print the label and tape it to the box. Drop the package off at your local UPS location right away once you print the label and tape it to the box. Every second counts!

Only ship Monday through Thursday!

It's extremely important to remember that the weekends are the busiest times for shipping carriers - the rates are inflated and packages are more prone to delays. Only ship your fresh produce Monday through Thursday to avoid any mishaps with the carrier service. This allows plenty of time for the produce to arrive prior to the weekend. Remember: Sunday is a NO TRANSIT day for UPS and all other relevant carriers. Your fresh produce will sit and rot in the warehouse if shipped close to this day of the week. Don't make this mistake.

How to get the best shipping rates for your business

Wondering how to grow your produce business? Or how to sell your fresh specialty produce online? Set up shop on Foraged. When you sell your produce online with Foraged, you get free access to our heavily discounted shipping rates through UPS. Foraged has discounted rates of up to 75% less than you’d experience on your own. Our low rates is a big reason why customers love buying specialty produce from Foraged shops. To increase your sales, set up your shop today and enjoy all of the powerful tools we offer!

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About Foraged

At Foraged, we’re on a mission to empower small-scale food purveyors to grow healthy, sustainable businesses while nourishing everyday people by providing easy access to unique foods.

By supporting Foraged vendors, you're helping to build a better, more sustainable food system for everyone.

Plus, we're committed to doing things the right way - our platform puts the power back in the knowledgeable hands of those who grow, harvest, and create foods most responsibly.

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