A temperature tracking system to help ensure quality deliveries of strawberries can be used with other fresh produce items.

For a year, Jeffrey Brecht, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, and other researchers studied how temperature monitoring can help ensure longer shelf lives for strawberries.

Using radio frequency identification tags, researchers collected temperature data and mapped temperatures throughout shipments of trailer loads from Oxnard, Calif., and Plant City, Fla., to Wal-Mart distribution centers.

Florida berries were tracked in shipments to Illinois and Washington, D.C., while California loads were recorded in shipments to Alabama, South Carolina and Washington state.

The research showed strawberries can warm during transport but not uniformly throughout the trailer, Brecht said.

Temperatures in the trucks varied by about 5 degrees with the pallets nearest the truck walls, particularly those on the truck’s south side exposed to the sun from California shipments to the East Coast, experiencing the most increase in temperature, he said.

Study tracks shipping temperatures for berries, other produceIf a shipper knows the quality of the produce and the temperatures the products have been exposed to, they will know which pallets should be delivered first to stores for longer shelf life, Brecht said.

Brecht said the tacking technology can be used on many perishable produce items, including bell peppers, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes.

“All the crop inputs, there are so many things if you think of it, it’s mind-boggling,” Brecht said. “If we take it all the way to the end and the product winds up in the trash can in someone’s kitchen, it’s a horrible waste. Making sure everything is of high enough quality and will be eaten by the ultimate consumer, that’s improving sustainability.”

Models developed by the researchers are being commercialized by project partners Franwell Inc., a Plant City agricultural software firm, and the a Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussman Corp., which manufactures refrigeration and food merchandising equipment.

The research was funded by a $155,000 grant by the Fayetteville, Ark.-based National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, which is supported by the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s foundation.