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How are Spices Transported?

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How are spices transported? With the right 3PL partner. See how R+L Global Logistics can help you season your business and move herbs and spices.
Published: June 29, 2020
Last Modified: August 28, 2023
Author: Ask Truckload

Worth billions of dollars worldwide, the spice industry is set by 2025 to be worth $3 billion in the United States alone. To get a piece of this large pie, you need to figure out the answer to a very important question — how are spices transported? Spices and herbs will definitely need to be hauled and getting this part of the equation wrong can be detrimental to your pepper.

Learning how to package and partner with a reputable third-party logistics (3PL) company will help you answer how are spices transported, as well as understanding the mission the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has in regulating these various types of seasoning. With this information on hand, you should be a shipping success in no time. 

What Counts as a Spice?

What Counts as a Spice

Black pepper and cinnamon. These are two staples in many kitchens around the world because of the flavor that these and many other spices can add to the foods we eat everyday. But what actually constitutes a spice?

A spice is a plant substance that is added to food to enhance the coloring, flavor or preservation. Spices come from roots, bark, fruit or seeds, which is important to note since herbs — which are not considered spices, just like spices are not herbs — come from the flowers, leaves or stems of plants.

Spices are popular everywhere, as well as the U.S. While America produces some of its own spices, the majority are imported since most of the more popular spices require tropical or subtropical climates. Despite that, dehydrated onion and garlic, which can be made into seasoning flakes or powder, are a common contribution from California while chili peppers grow well in the southwest. 

India does half of the spice business in the world production-wise and grows more than 70 percent of the different spices recognized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 

Besides black pepper and cinnamon, other common spices include:

  • Fennel
  • Oregano
  • Mustard
  • Nutmeg
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cloves
  • Saffron
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Vanilla

Spices have been prized for thousands of years and entire trade routes were devoted to them. In fact, America was stumbled upon by Europeans who were looking for an alternate route to India to continue procuring spices from the east. Their monetary values may have gone down since earlier times, but their prized effects in livening up food still remain. Saffron, for instance, takes up to 50,000 of its flowers to make a single pound of it into a spice. Therefore, a pound of saffron can cost thousands of dollars depending on the quality and what the prevailing market price is.

Spices come in three forms: whole dried, pre-ground dried and fresh. Fresh spices are the most flavorful form but have a short shelf life and will be more expensive than its dried counterparts. The whole dried form will have the longest shelf life and is the cheapest on a per-serving basis since it can be bought, stored in larger amounts and be ground up as needed.

The last kind of spice is the one most likely to be in a cabinet in many homes: pre-ground dried. Often, these spices are ground down (sometimes into a fine powder) and are easily dispensed. Pre-ground dried spices do have shelf lives but don’t go bad in the same way other foods do. They lose flavor and their aromatic nature over time but as long as they’re kept in a cool, dry place free of pests, ground spices can last up to 4 years. Vanilla extract, in fact, never goes bad and can be kept until it runs out.      

Although used copiously to season food, salt is not a spice — it is a mineral (not a plant), even though it is used in the same way a spice would be.

Salt is used alongside many spices. See our guide to salt shipping.

Are Herbs and Spices Regulated by the FDA?

Are Herbs and Spices Regulated by the FDA

Since spices and herbs are derived from plants, they are susceptible to contamination and safety issues just like fresh fruits and vegetables would be. So the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate spices and herbs to make sure they’re fit for human consumption.  

Specifically, salmonella is a large concern with spices and herbs. The FDA has instituted the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) for all food and drugs, which extends to spices and herbs. What the FSMA aims to do is prevent hazards before they can occur while also making sure the controls surrounding the supply chain are tight. The FSMA has appeared to lower the number of incidences of salmonella found present and also catch the cases before they can be entered into our food supply

Besides just making sure the spices and herbs are free of potential contaminants, the FDA also helps verify that the spices are labeled correctly so that all ingredients are listed and accurately depict nutritional information.   

Shipping Spices in Bulk

Shipping Spices in Bulk

As it was discussed earlier in this article, spices come in three different forms. So whether your spices are fresh or already dried will play a large part in how you’ll ship them in bulk. For instance, pre-ground dried spices are already placed in tightly sealed bags or containers since many are granular, so they’ll be inherently more protected than fresh spices or whole dried spices. Let’s break down the differences in greater detail so you know exactly how to ship your spices in bulk.

Are you shipping spices on the East Coast? Learn about freight shipping from Maryland to New York.

Shipping Fresh Spices

This is going to be more dependent on the individual spice in question since they are all unique. However, some general rules do apply. Fresh, whole spices are shipped more often in bags than boxes, and should be kept free of excessive water while also being properly ventilated. This will keep them from mold or spoilage, which these are more easily susceptible to since they are unprocessed.

Also, if bags are used to transport the spices, hooks should be avoided to hang or move them since that can damage the valuable freight within. Fresh spices have the shortest shelf life of the three, so you don’t want to make any mistakes that will shorten it.

Shipping Dried Spices

If the spices are being shipped “loose” to be sold in a farmer’s market, supermarket or health food stores, you’ll want to take a bit more care with them. These can be shipped in waterproof containers or large sacks/bags. The spices need to be kept cool and dry to make it to retailers. At this point, if the spices are ground up and dry, they can become ruined or at least unfit for retail because it will clump together. Also wet or damp spices can attract bacteria such as salmonella or end up promoting mold growth.

If the pre-dried spices are individually packaged, this is generally in plastic, sealed bags or small plastic or glass containers that should be completely sealed and waterproof by design. You’ll still want to avoid excessive moisture around these products. Using cardboard boxes to ship these will suffice since that should provide adequate protection during transportation. If the boxes are sturdy enough, they can even be stacked, which should allow you to ship more spices in a single load. 

How to Package Spices for Shipping

How to Package Spices for Shipping

This is as important as procuring the spices and setting the right price to sell them for. The packaging you use will make all the difference in the world, so appropriate attention and care should be taken in this arena.

First of all, there are three elements that are the enemy of your spices: light, water and heat. Keeping your spices in a cool, dark, dry state should be your first objective because if they see too much sunlight, high temperatures or moisture, they will likely be ruined. So the way you package your spices should reflect that.

Shipping your spices in a closed cardboard box or bag that is not able to be penetrated by sunlight is a good first step. Another good practice is to try to make the spice’s packaging waterproof if at all possible. If the spices are pre-ground and dried, the retail containers they come in should fulfil this requirement. Otherwise, sealing the spices in plastic bags should keep it dry against water.

Heat can be a little bit trickier during the summer months throughout the United States when the temperatures during the day can be in the 90s or 100s outside, and possibly hotter in the back of the truck if it is not climate-controlled. During hot times, a refrigerated truck is your best option to beat the heat. During more mild times, you can use normal freight shipping to send your spices.

How to Control Moisture when Shipping Dried Herbs and Spices

Moisture in the air through humidity is one of the biggest enemies of herbs and spices. Lumpiness and flavor loss can both occur, while mold growth could cause you to completely lose valuable merchandise since it can cause the spices to become toxic or responsible for foodborne illnesses.

The best way to control moisture when shipping dried spices and herbs is to hire a refrigerated truck. Depending on where you’re shipping your products through, a truck that is not climate-controlled is subject to the conditions surrounding it. For example, if you’re having your items shipped in a normal truck through the American southeast in the spring or summer, it will be hot and humid, which could affect the seasonings.

A climate-controlled truck can regulate the temperature and the humidity level to minimize the amount of moisture present while your freight is being shipped. While there is an additional expense associated with a refrigerated truck, it might be well worth it to have more certainty that your products will be kept free of excessive moisture.

If you need to ship on a normal truck absent of climate control, there are a few things you can do during the processing and packaging phase that will be helpful to cut down on the moisture. As an example, if you’re shipping fresh black pepper, this spice naturally releases water vapor. So more humidity-sensitive spices or herbs such as cinnamon, bay leaves or cloves should be kept away from pepper for that reason. 

How to Package Fresh Herbs for Shipping

How to Package Fresh Herbs for Shipping

The hard work has been done in growing and picking your herbs. But it’s not over just yet — packaging your herbs for shipping is an equally important part of the process and one that can turn healthy, delicious, fragrant herbs into something unsuitable for consumption if not done correctly.

To this end, shipping fresh herbs is not much different than shipping other plants or vegetables in the sense that they’re all perishable and do better in transit when certain measures are taken. When shipping herbs in bulk, one of the best and most cost-efficient ways to do so is to place the bundles of herbs into a thin plastic bag inside of a waxed cardboard or a styrofoam box. This will help insulate the herbs and keep them both protected and cool during shipping. This will also help with one of the biggest challenges during shipping: maintaining the cold chain. 

This refers to the practice of keeping the herbs at their optimal temperature from the time they’re harvested to when a customer selects it at the store. A super-skilled 3PL company will be able to do this expertly but you should hedge that bet by packaging your herbs in a way that helps to that end. 

When shipping fresh herbs, the plants will be packaged and inside a truck out of direct sunlight. But it still bears mentioning that during the loading, transport and unloading processes, that allowing direct sunlight to beat down on your herbs can be detrimental. Cilantro and basil, for instance, are very sensitive and will turn black if not properly protected.

Temperature for Shipping Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs, like regular plants, are definitely sensitive to temperatures. This extends to post-harvest when leaves respirate, which raises their temperatures. This can cause the plant to die if left unchecked.

Therefore, fresh herbs are usually cooled within hours of being picked. This can be done by hydro cooling, vacuum cooling, air cooling or using ice

Whatever you do, you don’t want to freeze most fresh herbs. Anything south of 32 degrees fahrenheit will cause damage in the form of darkened or water-soaked areas on the herb. Most fresh herbs will last around 3 weeks when kept around 32 degrees while their freshness drops to 2 weeks when they’re held at 41 degrees.

For herbs such as basil and shiso, these are even more sensitive to lower temperatures and actually shouldn’t be held below 50 degrees. If they aren’t, they can incur chilling damage. This can manifest itself in the form of accelerated decay, which happens in the physical form of browning leaves, loss of glossy leaf appearances and a bronzing of the leaf’s veins.

To ship herbs at these lower temperatures, you will likely require a refrigerated truck to handle your shipment. These are still regular 18-wheelers but with the added benefit of a refrigeration unit that can keep your herbs at an optimal temperature throughout their journey.

Another thing keeping the herbs at a low temperature does is lower their ethylene production. This is good overall since it stops yellowing of the leaves. Some plants like parsley, marjoram and mint are extremely affected by exposure to ethylene while other herbs such as basil, thyme, rosemary and sage may respond very little or not at all to ethylene.

Many herbs also like humidity, which keeps the leaves looking lush and green. Even then, you’ll want to keep the relative humidity no higher than 95 percent. Even then, this is a general statement as some herbs will do better with higher humidity than others.  

Popular Herbs and Spices from North America

Popular Herbs and Spices from North America

North America is one of the seven continents of the world and comprises 23 total countries when factoring in those of central America and the Carribean. A more narrow view of North America is just three countries: Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The United States consumes and imports more spices than any other country in the world. Suffice to say, the appetite to flavor food is robust and not going anywhere anytime soon. But what herbs and spices are actually grown in our part of Earth?

Maryland, for instance, has a wide-ranging list of herbs that grow well in the mid-Atlantic state including basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. As previously touched upon, California grows the majority of the United States’ garlic and onion that is eventually dried out and sold as flavoring.

As far as strictly spices go, three are native to America: vanilla, allspice and capsicum peppers. Native North American plants commonly used as herbs are wild mint, tarragon, sage, juniper and wild onion. In the American southwest and Mexico, chili peppers are commonly grown since they thrive in less humid conditions than similar plants and also benefit from a lot of sunlight with little to no shade.

The biggest hurdle to having more spices grown for harvest in America is the climate needed. Tropical or subtropical climates are best for many of the spices we consume regularly, which India — the world’s largest net producer and exporter of spices — has in abundance.    

Freight Insurance for Shipping Spices

Freight Insurance for Shipping Spices

A large load of spices, whether relatively inexpensive or expensive, is a huge overall financial commitment. It is one that you, as the importer or manufacturer, don’t want to leave to a chance occurrence of theft or damage.

Cargo theft alone is estimated to result in losses numbering in the billions per year. So even though the majority of freight loads — with values collectively in the trillions each year — get from one point to the next with no issues, it’s still a good thought to    

When shipping with a 3PL, the load will have standard cargo insurance as mandated by the Carmack Amendment. This law was enacted in 1906 to make sure carriers claim responsibility for the freight within their vehicles and defines what is able to be claimed as a loss and what isn’t. An intended effect of this law was to make sure freight carriers knew exactly what they were carrying and also the conditions of the goods throughout the process. This is so if claims are made against the carrier, they have diligent documentation on hand. This also means that carriers are legally allowed to limit their liability as part of the agreement.

There are five exclusions on the types of claims that can be made under the Carmack Amendment:

  • Act of God — This is when a natural disaster or some other anomaly occurs
  • Public authority — This is usually a government action, like trade embargoes, road closures or product recalls. The shipper has control over none of these, so therefore doesn’t bear responsibility in these cases
  • Act of war — If a foreign military or terrorist were to destroy the freight
  • Act of default of shipper — In this case, the bill of lading would be referenced to clear up any dispute over the condition of the goods upon being loaded
  • Inherent vice — This protects the carrier in the event that volatile goods or goods that could spoil or become otherwise ruined end up damaged even after the carrier took the necessary precautions.

So in short, the carrier is required to afford the shipper certain protections. This will offer you a level of financial security, but is not likely to cover the full value of your load of spices and herbs. So it should be on your list to procure your own, which you can do one of two ways.

The first way is to purchase additional freight insurance is directly through the 3PL company you’re having ship your freight. The 3PL usually partners with a third party insurance agency to provide a coverage level that you’re comfortable with. While it may go without saying, the higher the value you’re insuring the load for, the more the insurance will cost.

The other thing you can do is go out and shop for insurance yourself. You’re allowed as the shipper to try to secure an insurance policy that works best for you. As with all insurance, it should strike a balance between what you can afford to buy and what level of coverage you comfortably need.  

Shipping Herbs and Spices with a 3PL

Shipping Herbs and Spices with a 3PL

Throughout this article, it’s been well established that your spices and herbs are valuable commodities. Therefore it would behoove you to not do any of your own research and just toss boxes and boxes worth of your hard work onto the lowest bidder without any concern on the value proposition they are providing you.

To that end, you should look at what a 3PL provider can offer you, both in terms of the shipping and other value-added services as well. First of all, a well-established, forward-thinking 3PL will have an entire network of drivers available at its disposal. What that means is when you need your goods shipped, there will be a truck available. This is a big advantage to your business since you can count on being able to have your load transported when you need it.

Another advantage of shipping with a 3PL company is the focus on customer service the best ones have. Invariably, there will be questions, concerns or issues that could arise from time to time. Picking a partner that is responsive and shows genuine concern if you’re not pleased with any aspect of the agreement, a company like R+L Global Logistics that treats the act of providing freight shipping as a collaboration, is a huge step in the direction of you being satisfied with the handling of your goods.

One of the biggest advantages of dried spices and herbs are their lengthy shelf lives and even this is a factor in using a 3PL company. If you need your spices or herbs stored for any length of time, a 3PL should have warehousing available, often in strategically advantageous places, where you can rent space — often at very reasonable prices — until the retailers place an order for your products. This can be a big help for the times when you’re producing a bit more than you’re selling, or if you want to produce or procure spices or herbs ahead of an expected busier time.

Furthermore, if you do choose to warehouse some of your product with a 3PL, they can even fulfil orders for you through a pick and pack setup, which is just like it sounds. Your spices and herbs are picked off a pallet or shelf, packed into a box and shipped on your behalf. Because 3PLs make their mark in streamlining the shipping process, and implementing and constantly streamlining any efficiencies they can.

What if you could have all of the above and also save money? That is a very real possibility in utilizing a 3PL’s services. Your business won’t have to own or lease its own trucks, warehouses or fully fleshed out distribution chains to set up and then maintain. Outsourcing these facets of the supply chain will save you a much larger upfront investment which you can use on other areas of your business. In case using a 3PL doesn’t save you a ton of money, it will absolutely save you time that can be used to manage your overall operations rather than the minute details of each chain of supplying customers.

Transport Spices with R+L Global Logistics

Once the question — how are spices transported — is answered, it’s time to pick up the phone to call R+L Global Logistics so you can find out just how we can help you achieve your shipping needs. With a variety of different services on the table, we can offer you a comprehensive plan for your supply chain.

However, our specialty is truckload shipping. As an industry leader, R+L Global Logistics has fast, safe shipping that will get your spices there unscathed and on-time. In fact, our 99.5 percent on-time delivery rate is a point of pride and signals to our customers that we’re committed to speedily assisting you. This is executed in tandem with our stellar customer service that is available at any time to assist you with whatever you need.

We also understand what it takes to successfully ship herbs and spices. R+L Global Logistics will take the necessary precautions to make sure there is no spoilage or damage to your product. Furthermore, we can offer refrigerated trucks to keep your more sensitive spices and herbs cool and dry so they’re at their best when they arrive in front of your customers.

As a part of your normal business operations or for a time when you need your spices and herbs transported faster than usual, we offer expedited shipping. This is usually a direct route from point A to point B with minimal stops that can get your items there up to a day or 2 earlier depending on the route.

Besides our ability to transport your freight, R+L Global Logistics offers additional services like warehousing, order fulfillment...really, we can help run your entire supply chain from the point your goods are manufactured to when it is with your retailers. We have the infrastructure and experience to truly assist you achieve your goals.

So once you’ve figured out how spices are transported, partner with the best in the business over at R+L Global Logistics. We can ship your freight in a way that will help your operations thrive. Call us today at 866.353.7178 for a free quote.

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