Pilot project for the export of fresh vegetables by sea from Australia

Australia’s vegetable exporters are testing modified atmosphere and controlled atmosphere packaging to increase the shelf-life of fresh produce during sea freight.

To increase their competitiveness, Australian vegetable exporters are experimenting with new technology to double the shelf life of some of their produce amid rising freight costs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, the volume of perishable vegetables exported from Australia by air freight declined by 6.3% in 2020, representing a loss of AUD 263m (USD 191m).


As part of a pilot project by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, AUSVEG and Hort Innovation, controlled atmosphere technology was used to test sea freight to New Zealand and Asia. Trials were conducted with broccoli, sweet corn, green beans and iceberg lettuce stored inside containers using Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) liners and under controlled atmosphere (CA) conditions, with the aim of extending storage life.


The results showed that the ideal container temperature to ship broccoli to Japan and Taiwan was close to 0°C. Increasing temperatures to 4 °C reduced the shelf life by up to seven days. With sweet corn, shipping under a Controlled Atmosphere treatment doubled shelf life to up to 10 days upon arrival in market.


This research project provides vegetable exporters with additional insights into which export markets are technically viable by sea freight. Following this research, it will be necessary to select cultivars that are better suited for the longer sea freight supply chain, as there was significant variation in storage limits of different varieties of green beans, sweet corn and lettuce.



For further information on Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and Controlled Atmosphere for various food products, the following papers are available for download on FRIDOC: