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How to Ship Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits in the world and are grown in over 100 countries every year, making the logistics of how to ship this fragile fruit a top priority year-round. Tomatoes can cause a bit of confusion when it comes to which category of produce they belong to. While botanically tomatoes are considered fruits due to their origins as a ripened flower ovary which contains seeds. But legally, tomatoes are classified as a vegetable. This declaration dates back to 1893 when Congress passed a tariff act, placing a 10 percent ax on whole vegetables. This led to sellers labeling tomatoes as fruits to avoid the tax. In the end, a Supreme Court ruling declared tomatoes should be considered vegetables for the purpose of trade and commerce due to their preparation and use.

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How to Ship Fresh Tomatoes Safely

Tomatoes are harvested at various intervals in the growing process. Sometimes they are picked while they are still green and unripe. These tomatoes can be eaten, but in most cases they will be transported over long distances, allowing for prolonged ripening. In other cases, tomatoes will be picked just after the transition from green to red, or once fully red. Tomatoes that are harvested not long after the color changing process are called “pink” tomatoes. These tomatoes are not as susceptible to chilling injury, but should still be handled with care to avoid exterior damage. Once picked from the vine, all tomatoes will undergo some form of “hydrocooling.” This process is common in climacteric fruits. This group of fruits experience the natural hormone ethylene after harvesting, which allows the ripening process to take place during transit. Other fellow climacteric fruits include apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, mangoes, peaches and pears.

Once cooled to their optimal temperature, tomatoes are then transported to their designated shipping vessel, in most cases this will be a reefer trailer. These trailers help regulate produce temperatures throughout transit to ensure the arrival of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Pink tomatoes should be transported at a temperature between 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Green tomatoes, who will experience ripening through exposure to ethylene, should be kept at a temperature range of 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This higher temperature will help the produce avoid chilling injury or spoiling before its arrival to the market. All tomatoes should be placed in insulated foam trays before being placed in fiberboard boxes. These trays and boxes should be equipped with slits which will allow a constant airflow for the produce. Airflow helps allow the tomatoes to remain at their necessary temperature and helps avoid spoiling or ripening ahead of arrival.

Where Do Tomatoes Grow in the U.S.?

The United States trails only Turkey, India and China in tomato production each year. The U.S. has produced nearly 15 million tons of tomatoes each year over the last five years. U.S. production is spearheaded by the state of California where they produce roughly 80 percent of the U.S. tomato yield. Through May 31, California is projected to produce 11.7 million tons of tomatoes by the end of 2022. Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan round out the top five tomato producing states in the U.S.

World Tomato Production (Tons)

World Tomato Exports (USD)

  • Mexico: $2.5 billion (24.3% of exported tomatoes)
  • Netherlands: $2.1 billion (19.7%)
  • Spain: $1.2 billion (11%)
  • Morocco: $855.8 million (8.2%)
  • France: $498.1 million (4.8%)
  • Canada: $472.8 million (4.5%)
  • China: $387.6 million (3.7%)
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Tomato Tariff Information to Know Before Shipping

Tomatoes are a competitively sought after produce, and this popularity has led to a higher demand to ship tomatoes year-round. With this growth, its important to remain caught up with current tariff prices to ensure profit margins continue to increase. Between 2019 and 2020, tomato exports saw a growth of 8 percent and in 2020 tomatoes were the 319th most traded product globally. In 2018, tomatoes had a tariff average of 29 percent, ranking as the 29th lowest tariff according to the Harmonized System Code (HS) product classification. Barbados (188%), Turkmenistan (100%), Jamaica (100%), Cyprus (76.7%), and Romania (70%) had the highest tariffs while Kuwait, MauritiusUnited Arab EmiratesMaldives and Hong Kong all had the lowest, each with 0% marks.

2020 U.S. Tomato Import/Export Rankings

Top Countries Importing from U.S.

  • Canada ($299,696,644)
  • Japan ($3,222,940)
  • Mexico ($3,047,703)
  • Bahamas ($1,356,212)

Top Countries Exporting from U.S.

  • Mexico ($2,381,072,032)
  • Canada ($387,702,425)
  • Guatemala ($18,151,033)
  • Dominican Republic ($17,474,076)

Ship Tomatoes with FreightCenter

Shipping tomatoes can be a delicate process due to the fruit’s fragile properties. This leads many farmers and sellers searching for the safest and most efficient way to ship their produce. This is where a third-party logistics provider (3PL) like FreightCenter can help. FreightCenter’s team of trusted and knowledgeable shipping experts can help can help find the best carrier with the lowest rates for your tomato shipment. Give us a call at 8007167608 or run a free online freight quote today!

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