The Cold@Field field cooling system Naturipe Berry Growers is using cuts a step from the strawberry harvesting process and helps extend shelf life.
The Cold@Field field cooling system Naturipe Berry Growers is using cuts a step from the strawberry harvesting process and helps extend shelf life.

Cutting a step out of the strawberry harvesting process, Naturipe Berry Growers is using technology that cools berries in the field to extend shelf life.

The Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Growers, which markets through Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., is testing and using a Cold@Field cooling system at Watsonville, Calif.

Eliminating transport to an off-site cooler, the system streamlines the pick-to-cool process and helps prolong shelf life by one to two days, said Vinnie Lopes, Naturipe Farms’ West Coast vice president of sales.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the consumer a step closer to the field,” Lopes said. “Today in this industry, with berries being the biggest category, there’s just more and more focus on the category. Everyone wants you to see how to push the limits and be better. We’re always trying for new innovations.”

Naturipe began using a prototype in Oxnard, Calif., in February and moved the unit to Watsonville on May 8.

Workers position the portable and self-contained unit, developed in collaboration with American Cooling Inc., Spreckels, Calif., at a field’s entrance. Customers position their trailers at the cooling plant’s enclosed refrigerated loading dock.

The automated cooling process reduces handling and temperature variations, speeds loading and eliminates 1.5-10 hours of field to cooling. It also cuts respiration and reduces loss of the sugars and acids that provide strawberries flavor, Lopes said.

From picking to transporting to coolers can take 3.5-4 hours. The temperatures of berries entering the Cold@Field cooling tunnel fall to 32 degrees within an hour of picking compared to the hours required of conventionally cooled berries, Lopes said. At picking, a berry typically possesses 14 days of shelf, Lopes said.

Naturipe is using one Cold@Field unit and plans to bring additional field coolers online next year. In early June, it was beginning to bring customer trucks directly to the fields, Lopes said.

“Our Cold@Field systems are modular/portable to move from district to district as the harvest progresses,” Michael Azzopardi, American Cooling’s president, said in a news release. “We designed this to run very fast and efficiently with high airflow rates for consistent cooling. Automated pallet handling means less opportunities for bruising and a temperature controlled loading dock avoids temperature variations.

Azzopardi said Naturipe worked closely with Cold@Field engineersto develop an integrated system designed to extend shelf life and quality of their berries.

The Cold@Field can process up to five loads, — 28 pallets, Lopes said.

Rich Amirsehhi, Naturipe Berry Growers’ chief executive officer, led the system’s development, Lopes said.