Making a house salad or BLT sandwich at home, or enjoying either at a restaurant would be pretty difficult without a key ingredient: lettuce. As a producer of the versatile green vegetable, you sure know this. But when it comes to knowing how lettuce is shipped, maybe you’re drawing a huge blank. With a fragile, easily contaminated crop, it is of paramount importance to know how to properly transport the commodity.
Luckily, if you adhere to recommendations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other basic rules of handling and storing the different varieties, knowing how lettuce is shipped will set you up for success in this arena. Lettuce is temperature-sensitive and requires swift, refrigerated shipping.
Continue reading to find out the best practices that can lead you to maximizing the value of your lettuce crop.
Popular in salads and on sandwiches, lettuce is a much-used vegetable in daily American cuisine. Truthfully, the leafy produce is used worldwide in a variety of ways, such as a substitute for bread in wraps or in Asian-style dishes with other vegetables, rice or noodles and meat.
While many believe that lettuce is just mostly water and therefore lacking a lot of nutritional value, that is actually not true. The mild green vegetable with a slightly sweet flavor can be good sources of calcium, vitamin C and potassium in all lettuces. In dark, green leafy lettuce, there is even more value from vitamin A, beta carotene and more fiber.
Furthermore, lettuce is very low in calories, and has an extremely negligible amount of fat and carbohydrates, so it can absolutely be part of a healthy diet.
China is the world’s largest producer with 15.2 million tons in 2017. Most of their lettuce is used for domestic consumption, though, and never leaves the country. Solidly in second place is the U.S. (3.8 million tons), which easily outgrows the next three countries on the list — India, Spain and Italy — combined.
Lettuce is grown in many American states overall but if it is a head lettuce you’re growing, it’s a near certainty you’ll find those coming from either California or Arizona. California produces about 70 percent of the head lettuce in the U.S. while Arizona accounts for the rest. The two most popular head lettuces grown and consumed stateside from those states are iceberg and butterhead.
Meanwhile, for loose leaf or romaine lettuce, California and Arizona have less of a U.S. monopoly but only just. It’s still about 98 percent total for these two variations of lettuce while the rest of the 2 percent is scattered around the country. California’s inclusion on the lettuce-producing list shouldn’t be a shock since it is the sole producer of many crops grown in the United States. This includes cash crops such as almonds, figs, olives and several more.
Lettuce is a cool weather crop, which means it likes daytime temperatures in the low 70s and nighttime temperatures in the mid 40s. The reason for noting this is to denote that the plant is temperature sensitive. After being harvested, the produce needs to be handled as little as possible because it is extremely fragile and also susceptible to contamination from bacteria like E. coli, salmonella or (more recently) cyclospora.
This kind of contamination is thought to come from the processing phase or improper handling in the form of insufficient handwashing. The FDA recommends taking every step to prevent contamination since trying to eliminate potential pathogens after the fact can be both difficult and costly.
Besides the possibility of contamination, lettuce is considered a delicate crop, both while being handled and also being stored. The storage of lettuce is essential since keeping the lettuce too warm, too cold or with not enough humidity will cause it to deteriorate rapidly.
If lettuce is kept at 32 degrees fahrenheit, just above its freezing point of 31.6 degrees, it can stay in optimal condition for 2 to 3 weeks. As a point of reference, raising the shipping or storage temperature from 32 to 38 degrees, which may not be much of a difference to a human, is a big deal to lettuce. This can cut its viability in half from 14-21 days to 7 to 10 days.
Going further, lettuce is made up mostly of water. Therefore keeping it properly humid once it is picked is of the utmost importance. Lettuce thrives when kept at about 90 to 95 percent relative humidity. Less than this and it will wilt or get dried out. However, anything over 95 percent and the lettuce will get outwardly wet and slimy.
Taking things even further, lettuce needs to be properly aerated during shipping and storage. For this reason, when being shipped on the back of a refrigerated truck or in a restaurant cooler, using boxes or crates with openings or holes in them is essential. These will allow the lettuce to stay circulated and not become inedible or spoiled.
Lettuce isn't the only produce product with special shipping considerations. Learn more about sugar beet transportation.
Once the question of how lettuce is shipped has been answered to your satisfaction, it’s time to give the transportation experts at R+L Global Logistics to find out how we can help you ship your heads and leaves of lettuce to any destination. We can not only ship your goods but can manage your entire supply chain from top to bottom.
R+L Global Logistics has the refrigerated shipping you need to make sure the lettuce you plan on selling reaches grocery stores and restaurants in their freshest possible state. Since lettuce needs to be kept cool and humid, this is of the utmost importance. Our 99.5 on-time delivery rate will also help to that end and — if you run into any issues or just have questions — our stellar customer service team will be there to support you.
So now that you know how lettuce is shipped and you’re ready to begin transporting it, call R+L Global Logistics today for a free shipping quote at 866.353.7178. With no obligation, you can find out firsthand about the difference we can make for your produce.