Texas importers of Mexican produce should finally get some relief this season when climate-controlled inspection facilities go on line at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.
Buyers have long complained about product being unloaded under the hot sun while loads are inspected.
In late October, the facility was only waiting for electrical lines to be installed, said Jimmy Garza, director of operations for Bebo Distributing Inc. in Pharr, Texas, and a city commissioner and former member of the Pharr International Bridge Board.
The 5,000-square-foot facility has been completely built, he said, and includes six dock doors.
Shippers will be able to cross strawberries, blueberries and other perishable items knowing that they will be unloaded into cool facilities during the inspection process, Garza said.
He termed the facility “an added-value project” that ultimately will benefit growers in Mexico as well as U.S. retailers.
“If you break the temperature chain, the retailer has really got to pay the price because the shelf life diminishes tremendously,” Garza said.
Ryan Wolverton, sales manager for Fresh Tex Produce LLC, Alamo, Texas, is happy to see the new facility.
“Technically, our border inspections are breaking the cold chain, because they don’t have facilities to keep the product at its current temperature,” he said.
How much damage that can cause varies by time of year and how long the product is sitting out.
An importer may have cilantro sitting out in 100 degree temperature for up to an hour, he said.
“That time can really cause some issues to fresh cilantro,” Wolverton said.
The ice on top of or in the boxes easily can melt, and the cold pack is lost, he said.
“It would be a very good thing if they were able to get it set up to where the cold chain is not broken,” Wolverton said.
Sunny Produce and Brokerage LLC, McAllen, Texas, has experienced problems with product when the cold chain was broken while produce was unloaded during the inspection process, said vice president Victor Thomas Myers.
Cooling product down after it has been unloaded is difficult, he said, especially for tomatoes, broccoli and papayas.
Importers have been “on pins and needles worrying about it,” he said.
Product starts decaying as soon as it is taken off the truck, he said. Maintaining the cold chain can add an extra day or two of shelf life.
The new cooling facility, he said, “is going to be amazing.”
Garza said the cooling facilities are just one benefit the Pharr-Reynosa crossing has to offer.
“We are trying to build the premier bridge in the area,” he said, that will be able to compete with other bridge crossings that are scheduled to open to commercial traffic.