The Port of Savannah will begin handling fruit from South America Sept. 1 that has undergone cold treatment, a process that prevents the transmission of agricultural pests.

“South American fresh fruit destined to the Southeast market has traditionally been shipped to Northern U.S. ports,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “Delivery to Savannah means fruits won’t have to be trucked as far to reach Southeastern markets, allowing fresher offerings for stores and longer shelf life for consumers.”

Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program, citrus fruits, grapes and blueberries will be chilled for at least 17 days prior to entry into the U.S. to protect against fruit flies. The process will be done in producing countries – including Peru, Chile and Brazil – or at transshipment points such as Panama. The fruit will move in refrigerated containers held just over freezing during transit aboard cargo vessels, effectively cutting the time the fruit must remain stationary for treatment.

“We will work closely with the Georgia Port Authority and Customs and Border Protection over the next year to evaluate the application of cold treatment and monitor its progress,” said Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator to Plant Protection and Quarantine, a program under USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Bringing cold treatment to the Port of Savannah is just one example of USDA’s commitment to facilitating trade while protecting American agriculture.”

The program also cuts logistics-related emissions by reducing truck miles and allowing more efficient shipments. Trucks carrying refrigerated cargo containers may be loaded up to 100,000 pounds (truck and cargo weight) on Georgia highways, where domestic trucks may be loaded only to 80,000 pounds. Transit savings could mean lower prices for consumers.

Removing potential pests via cold treatment also reduces the need for pesticides.

“Cold treatment is an environmentally-friendly alternative to fumigation-based pest control methods that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” said APL Vice President for Global Reefer Trade Eric Eng. “It’s increasing acceptance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other import authorities around the world enhances the overall viability of shipping fresh produce by sea.”

Cliff Pyron, GPA chief commercial officer, said port customers have been requesting the delivery of fruit closer to the fast-growing market of the Southeastern U.S.

“We look forward to a successful pilot, leading to a permanent program expanded to include new countries and more commodities,” Pyron said. “Because the South American growing season is opposite that of the U.S., these shipments are vital for keeping fresh produce on shelves year-round.”