Post Harvest Quality Assurance In Fruit Export – Yvonne Rentmeester 

[00:00:00] Kingsly: 

Thank you all very much for tuning in. And yet another episode of the cargo run podcast. My name is Kingsly and I’m your host. Our guest today is Yvonne Rentmeester. Mr I hope I didn’t just butcher your name but thank you very much for joining us in this session. So let’s dive straight into things. Food waste is worth a staggering 990 billion every single year. And 14% of this occurs in transit. That is from when their food is harvested all the way till it reaches its final destination.

So in the event of damage to cargo and transit questions arise between the buyer, the seller. As to the quality of the cargo and origin, you spent many years as a quality assurance manager, and we’d like to learn from you. What are some of the best practices that you’ve developed over the years to ensure the best fruit quality?

[00:00:53] Yvonne: 

I think it’s very much a collaboration with the production teams. Where I was working with a banana produce team, and it’s very critical that the handling and the cold chain is maintained. The biggest challenge is the maintenance of that cold chain because of all that work and the growth that goes into that product.

The handling that gets in and then it heads into different stocking centres. Those stocking centres have to be at a controlled temperature and they’re very key to watch. I would think the majority of the commodities that are being shipped up into the different areas of the world is your temperature zones. And your climate zones for each apical piece of commodities really gotta be managed.

And that’s if it’s a stocking centre, is it being cooled properly or the doors being left open. Once it’s sitting there, what’s the timeline that it’s sitting there for that cooling process. And then it gets shipped into those containers. And are those containers at the right temperature? Are they maintaining the temperature?

Several, challenges are now that these temperature controlled units are, climate-controlled clearly they’re smart containers, but what is the band that they’re turning on and off with, which could affect the product quality and so that is a critical component that your cold chain really has to be managed and means.

[00:02:18] Kingsly: 

Oh, fantastic. So talking about the cold chain and the preservation or maintenance of the cold chain, fruits are obviously temperature sensitive and they do require a high degree of care.

Especially when they’re being transported over long distances. So recently in the news, we’ve heard about, you know, things like the grounding in the Suez canal. We had congestions in ports, like in Durban, in South Africa, but also in the states then there’s COVID-19, which is affecting, the world as a whole.

So all of these events have impacted global trade, but how has this impacted, transit times in your view is, is this resulting in increased spoilage in transit? Can you paint a picture of us for us? What the future might look like? So there’s an increased use of technology, but we still see events like this.

How, or what would the future of transportation be? Or the transportation of goods look like, should we expect increased transit times as the new normal.

[00:03:22] Yvonne:

I believe that it could be the new normal. But I think the fantastic part about it is that in conjunction with the new technologies that are available for managing and transit. Where you can see through satellite imagery, the connections with the different. The packages in the containers that they’re being monitored on those shipments.

So you’ve got the entire team really looking at it. The fluctuations, how long are they being held up there? They’re keeping an eye on each container as it’s coming across. So, it’s quite the challenge, but let’s say, for example, the products coming out of Costa Rica that are shipping into Europe, that’s already a very long voyage.

That’s under a controlled atmosphere application and that’s where you could be looking at different applications being put into the chain cold, CA coming into the states. Depending on what where’s it coming from. And that way you can manage it and process it accordingly. But you have the ability to, you know, track through sensors real-time data.

So that’s been really interesting to observe throughout, you know, my time is to see how that’s been implemented and how that’s been able to increase your productivity for the end-user.

[00:04:38] Kingsly: 

So, when it comes to the quality of produce the shelf life, and they have a state obviously plays a significant role. I’d like to find out from you how important or how significant it is. This harvest date on the shelf life of produce, and are there other parameters that could impact the shelf life of cargo?. Could you please identify some of the technologies that you use today to manipulate these shelf lives to increase the shelf life such that some of the temperature-sensitive produce can sustain longer transit times?

[00:05:14] Yvonne: 

The critical component for your shelf life is always based on temperature and the handling of that temperature product. So what you are seeing now are companies coming out with, which has been going on for a number of years, but you have the modified atmosphere packaging that can go into.

Let’s say it’s a bag or an application directly on top of a product to extend that shelf life. So I’m sure you might be reading or hearing about, you know, Hazel technologies. For example, they’ve been able to do study after study and are putting these applications into various marketplaces to extend the shelf life.

So that’s where a lot of this research and development is going into is those shelf-life studies and the modified atmosphere, packaging. And again, it’s your shelf life is really affected by your temperature. And how is that being maintained once it arrives at the end? That dock, how fast is it getting unloaded, whatever dock that it’s getting into, what Europe, North America, and then once it gets into there, how fast is it getting into those distribution centres in the warehouse?

And how are they handling it? So it’s the entire logistics cold chain has really gotta be managed and well maintained.

[00:06:29] Kingsly: 

So I remember a few years ago when I work in Argentina and we’re handling some cases, I think there were blueberries that were shipped from Latin America to the United States and the issues were out. I think they had manipulated those zones. There, they’re always free to be able to extend the transit time or the, or the shelf life of the blueberries.

And the reason I asked this question was to identify some of the technologies that are available today. Like the one, you mentioned helping increase the shelf life of the produce. And I think this is something that can be very relevant for some of the fruit exporters that may not be aware of these technologies.

So, after this call, we can add a link to the product, which you just mentioned so that some of our listeners could become aware of it. And help increase the shelf life of their products as well.

But let us move a little bit down in, in practice. So food exporters become aware of the damage to their container fruits. Perhaps only when the container’s arrived at the buyer’s premises, the buyer opens the cargo or the container and then realizes that there’s been damaged in transit.

[00:07:50] Kingsly: 

Well, yes, there are cases where, if you’re using a real-time data logger that you would notice. If there’s been a significant variation of temperature in transit. Then perhaps you would suspect that there’s likely to be damaged in transit. But typically you’d become aware once this container has arrived at the consignee or the buyer’s premises.

So, what will happen at this stage is you would probably normally appoint a surveyor and the carrier on their part would appoint their own representatives Servia and together they would perform a joint inspection to determine what was the likely cause of damage. But unfortunately, this happens a couple of days in some cases, up to five days after the container may have been opened and maybe return to the point.

So, then there’s a chance that the fruits themselves may have been moved. And so the evidence contaminated, in my view, this practice does not certainly tell the whole story.

So, what do you think we’re missing here? are there important parts of this story that we are currently not capturing? Is there some information that you’d advise exporters to be able to collect and keep to ensure that they have a complete history of the handling and quality of their products?

[00:09:00] Yvonne: 

It’s like you’re starting to have your quality teams at the port during loading, making sure everything’s being packed properly, that it’s being shipped properly, that the temperatures are being maintained and you’re correct.

You really don’t see anything on the back end of those containers. You see the last two pallets that are wrapped into those and placed into those containers. And you see that either. If it’s a full unload at the port and then it’s like a transfer from the inbound. Container into the truckers for that container order.

Oftentimes it’s just a straight, the containers arrive and then they go into those distribution centres and it’s at that time when the full unloading is occurring, that you start seeing what’s going on. What is the benefit though, is that these customers are able to use there, take, obtain pictures, get on the phone immediately to say, this is what we’re seeing.

[00:10:35] Yvonne: 

And then you guide them through and keep an eye on where is it happening? Which part of the palette is it happening? Maybe it’s a challenge with the boxes shifting. Was it a, maybe more, some transit started happening on the shipping. Maybe it had a rougher ride on the seas or what happens when it gets to the.

The roads themselves when it’s coming in and its writing may be some rough highways, then you start seeing some damage as well. I think that it’s a collaboration and getting if the utilization of the cell phone, for example, or taking those pictures and getting them out immediately, you can see where it’s occurring.

So it’s not on the farmer, it’s not on the producer, it’s on that logistics transport. Where can you adjust that and make sure that it’s getting into the right hands so they can keep an eye on it? And it’s really, what do you need to put on? Maybe you need to put some, you know, the bladders to keep the loads from shifting what are, or braces, anything that you can do to keep your container in the best possible state and keep it from shifting around.

It is really what you want to keep an eye on.

[00:11:03] Kingsly: 

I am glad that you mentioned the use of cell phones for the purposes of collecting immediate evidence. And just to plugin here, this ties in nicely with what we do at Optimiz.  We provide a web-based mobile application where receivers or exporters of perishable products will be able to collect objective evidence of their cargo and pre and post-shipment.

To satisfy either themselves or their buyers or their insurance, or even their carriers that you know, that the quality and handling of their produce was done in the right way. And perhaps that the quality was top-notch and this, this helps at the content east premises as well.

Even before the opening of the container by use of our application, you’ll be able to collect evidence once you know, your own unsealing, the container, and we use computer vision to randomize the boxes to be inspected.

[00:11:59] Kingsly: 

So you cannot choose which box to inspect by yourself. Maybe what a physical survey would have done. We randomly choose the box for you. And I think it is really important when it comes to telling a true story of the quality of the cargo at discharge. But I’d like to just come back to you. How important is it to be able to demonstrate that, the fruits were handled properly and were of high quality at Oracle?

So with your marketing experience, I just wanted to find out how important is it for this information to drive when driving a marketing campaign, or maybe when you’re prospecting for a new client or a new buyer, and what are some of the most important buying decision drivers that you’ve seen in the market?

[00:12:46] Yvonne: 

I believe that it’s the complete chain that the buyers know exactly what happened to that product when the minute it got planted, that you’ve gotta be able to show the sustainability, how it’s being managed by the teams, how they are taking care of every single piece and its complete transparency in your chain.

That’s a critical component I believe and they need to be able to understand. Everybody in the chain and how it handles from, you know it’s a really team-oriented relationship from the producers into the end-user. And so I think it’s constant collaboration obtaining the data, really demonstrating what goes in and what’s involved in managing and producing.

That commodity, you know, it’s a lot of time and so much labour to put in what your various commodity, wherever you’re planting it and the weather, what is the weather impacting? You know, you never know if there’s going to be a cold chain, a snapback comes in. Maybe there’s not enough sunlight depending on the time of year.

[00:13:37] Yvonne: 

So it’s all very, you know, different times of the year. There are different weather patterns that you’re going to be managing. I think the buyers are really pretty good and understanding that this is what’s coming and this is what’s expected. It’s constant dialoguing, constant communication, and it’s constant education and providing that data.

So then you can take it to the very end consumer, the consumer really understands, this is what goes into obtaining this piece of fruit or this vegetable. And I think it’s not often clear. As to really all that comes in and that’s what’s been very interesting to see is there’s transport coming in.

There are so many different factors that are contributing to this end piece of product that you’re buying. And, and [ again, for them, they’ve got to understand where should they be placing this piece of fruit or this one, whatever, how they’re handling it also affect that shelf life and that taste and the flavour.

So it’s, it’s the constant relationship of education and dialogue.

[00:14:56] Kingsly:

I totally agree with you. I think the more information we can provide, the more people we’ll become aware of the efforts that have been put into this. And if you are aware of the effort, then in a way, you’re going to reduce the amount of wastage that we are seeing of the 990 billion, according to the food and agriculture organization.

This occurs every single year. So I think that the more information we can provide, then we hopefully would see a reduction in food waste or in fruit waste if you like. So in your career, what are some of the most common mistakes that you see when it comes to packaging or maybe stuffing a container?

Now, if we’re talking about wastage or, loss in transit, some of this occurs as a result of packaging or may be incorrect stuffing of a country. Maybe their pallets are not stuffed correctly, there is no damaging or maybe their pallets are too high above the load line.

But what are some of the mistakes that you’re seeing in the market and what would you advise those that are looking to go into exports, what would be the best practice for them today?

[00:16:05] Yvonne: 

Make sure that the entire container has been evaluated prior to packing the drains. Have they been addressed? Making sure they’re unplugged that they’re clean, ensure that the right oxygen levels are being maintained. Cause each commodity has a different, specific set that they should be having, making sure that your vents are open and not closed in case. Cause that could be an issue for your airflow.

Make sure that they’re running generators, however, they’re being maintained. Is there a way to put that into your specifications prior to pack out when you’re packing out and loading that container, have a checklist, make sure it’s running, make sure it’s clean? Make sure it’s operating again, that you have enough area around the pallet.

So you do have the airflow coming through. So it’s maintaining that refrigeration. And so that would be for that piece. And then when it gets into the port of arrival, Don’t open those containers until you know that in that they’re functioning that they’re plugged in or however they’re being maintained for they’re staying on and maintaining that cold chain and maintaining that cold that when it gets dark, that they’re not open.

[00:17:14] Yvonne: 

And then, stuff until you know that you have the next place for it to be placed, that your area for staging is ready to go. It’s onto the customer. So that’s when the next piece gets in that the customer’s load is ready to go and their trucks are on and ready to be loaded. So it’s really trying to keep your cold chain is minimal as broken as possible.

And that’s where you see a lot of your fluctuations and the handling, that’s a critical component too. You don’t see it when it’s getting loaded, you don’t see that, you know, until it gets to the end-user, like what’s not what happened. So again, that it’s handling and just continue doing education with the teams down to make sure that they understand really what their impact is.

And I think that’s really great to show them like you’ve done all this work and look what happens when it gets here. It’s getting sold on these grocery retailers and you’re the one that got it. And I think that’s really great to show and to demonstrate to the farmers, to every person that’s involved, the pack-out the people that make the crates and make those pallets, like this is what you’re doing.

It’s a global source these are hands-on done and it’s, it’s labour-intensive. And I think that story and that collaboration is really a critical component.

[00:18:31] Kingsly: 

All right. So obviously, you have a lot of experience and knowledge in this market and industry. But for some of our listeners who may not know who you are. I’d like you to take some time just to introduce yourself again. Just let us know who you are, what is it you’re working on at the moment.

And if there are there’s anyone out there who wants to tap into your brain, or maybe ask you a few questions, how could they reach you?

[00:19:00] Yvonne: 

I’m very well experienced in this realm of business. I got started in 1997 and I was able to be part of these technologies back. I worked for it all and it was very different than in 1997. They were coming in forms before pallets and the pallet starts. So I was been able to be very much hands-on with lots of this research and development in collaboration with the production teams. Then the vendors such as plastic pallets different corner board styles, the modified atmosphere, packaging, extensive research, very hands-on.

I was known as a hands-on manager because the bananas would come in and I would fly in and do the evaluations from the minute they docked all the way to the end-user. That’s where I am and I grew up with my dad. My dad is a retired professor at Cal poly Pomona, and he specialized in citrus and avocado production.

[00:19:54] Yvonne: 

So my major was business management and I minored in fruit industries. So that’s kind of how I grew up. I grew up around the farm and around these avocado and citrus fruits. And so I’m pretty privy and being very lucky and blessed to utilize sources such as a great one. I would highly recommend to everybody is look at UC Davis’s post-harvest centre.

Fantastic. I’ll make sure that you get that link any their products, coaching, continuous knowledge, and that’s where it’s been really great for me is continued growth and continued change. And that’s what like, transit ripening. The containers and how they’ve been modified and just with the carrier team.

So there are just very so many resources, I’d be happy if anybody had questions just to send to me. You can find me on LinkedIn and I can try to guide you and get you to that recommendation to different areas and companies that you could coordinate with.

[00:20:54] Kingsly: 

Fantastic. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have this conversation with you today. Thank you very much for making the time. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been Yvonne and I’m looking forward to having another conversation with you very soon.

[00:21:12] Yvonne: 

Thank you. It was great to chat with you.