Chrysanthemum grower Diana Henao, Uniflor, on Vacuum Cooling:

"We ship our sea freight flowers only with this method"

Increasingly more growers are considering or already shipping their flowers or part of their harvest by sea, a way of transportation that gained a lot of popularity over the last years. It is a cheaper option but how to keep the flowers fresh during this 'long trip'. According to Diana Henao of Uniflor, vacuum cooling is the answer. Five years ago, this Colombian chrysanthemum grower decided to explore shipping part of their flowers by sea freight, so they tried out several different methods, but without any success, till they tested the vacuum cooling process. "From that day, we ship our sea freight flowers only with this method."

Uniflor's fresh flowers

How to keep flowers fresh in the container?
Uniflor, established in 1988, is growing chrysanthemums (pompon and disbuds) on 20.5ha in Rionegro, Antioquia. The flowers are sent to North America every day by airlines and once a week by sea. Five years ago, they decided that they wanted to send flowers by sea and they began to investigate the process to keep the flowers fresh during transport in the container.

"It takes about 2 weeks for the flowers to reach the final customer in the USA. Therefore, we looked at different options. At first, we tried to send the boxes at 4°C, which is the minimum temperature that we can reach in our coolers without freezing the flowers, but in the containers, the temperature rises and the moisture accumulates in the sleeves and caused many diseases.  We've also tried applying chemical products in the post-harvest process, different type of boxes, but all without any success. Then we heard about the vacuum cooling process through our agent, who recommended it. So, we went to Mauricio Gleiser of Vacuum Cooling Colombia and tested the process. We had excellent results."

Vacuum cooled flowers - longer vase life
The big difference between vacuum cooled flowers and non vacuum cooled flowers is the vase life, she explains. "Flowers that are not vacuum cooled before they are being shipped, arrive in a bad condition while flowers that are vacuum cooled still have a vase life of 15 or more days after arrival."

The vacuum cooling process
So, how does it work? Henao: "The boxes are being put in a vacuum chamber where the temperature is being lowered to 1 centigrade degree. The reduction in temperature via vacuum cooling is achieved by rapid evaporation of water. It takes about an 1 hour to vacuum cool one container."

Vacuum cooling prior to air freight?
Airfreight keeps necessary due to several reasons; last minute orders/demand, for minor quantities that cannot be held for the next container and so on. However, only the flowers that will be shipped by sea are being vacuum cooled at Uniflor, but why? "This is because of the time it takes to transport our flowers to the USA. In case of air freight, we do not have to use it because our the transport time is very short and we have a good pre-cooling in our farm, which guaranties the quality. Although vacuum cooling prior to those shipments could end up in added value but current logistics (exposure to hot/humid environment) in MIA wastes some part of the benefit. We need to find a way to save that portion. and we know that Vacuum Cooling Colombia is researching that end. Uniflor shall support those efforts as it is already and will always be the benchmark."

For more information
Diana Henao

For more information
Vacuum Cooling Colombia 
Mauricio Gleiser  


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