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A strong crop and excellent service equals a peach of a season at Eastern Propak

A banner crop and better service are on tap for the 2019 peach season at Eastern Propak.

“This year we have done a very significant upgrade to our line,” Jeff Danner, general manager at Glassboro, N.J.-based Eastern Propak LLC told The Produce News. “We’ve installed new hardware, new software and done a complete overhaul of our grading system. Hopefully that will allow us to run quicker and more efficiently and that will show itself in the final product.”

Expect that product to be nothing short of phenomenal this year.

CAPTION-2 “As far as our crop goes, our guys had as near perfect bloom as you can get, so the crop outlook is full, and up to this point we’ve had nothing but extraordinarily good weather,” Danner said in early June. As a result, Danner expected to start packing his earliest peach varieties in late June. “Usually our first pack date is somewhere between July 1 and July 4, but I think we are going to be earlier than that from what the growers are telling me,” he said.

Officials at Eastern Propak pride themselves on the quality of their fruit. That stems from how the fruit is treated in the orchards all the way to the packinghouse.

“Our line handles all the fruit as gently as humanly possible,” Danner noted. “But there is a lot more to it. A lot has to do with how the fruit is harvested and handled at the farm. If you are gently putting the picking bags back into the bin, the fruit will not have anywhere near the bruising as if you just walk up to the bin and dump the whole bag into it.

“And here at our facility the great majority of our fruit is packed by hand, rather than by a volume fill line or a machine,” he continued. “In that respect, we are handling the fruit as gently as we can. The return on that is going to be in shelf life and how long a retailer can keep it in the box before it hits the shelf.”

To prolong the life of peaches, Danner suggested retailers keep the fruit as cold as possible.

“We keep our peaches between 33 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you break that cold chain, the fruit is going to soften,” Danner said, noting that Eastern Propak peaches are out of that temperature range on the packing line for only two to four minutes before going back into refrigeration.

“When we pick and pack the peaches, they are stone hard. They have as much sugar content as they are ever going to have, and they will start to soften when the temperature is raised over time,” he explained, adding that Jersey Fruit peaches should be kept at room temperature for two to three days to get that “nice, juice rolling down your chin” peach.

Jersey Fruit peaches are primarily distributed in states east of the Mississippi River, all the way up into Canada. “There is a fair amount of work we do with Canadian receivers,” Danner said. “With our peaches, from the time it leaves the tree until it is boxed and put on a truck is 24 to 48 hours max. That makes quite a difference,” he said.

Eastern Propak serves as the packer for the Jersey Fruit Co-Op, a cooperative of four peach growers that merchandise their crop under the Jersey Fruit label. In addition to yellow and white peaches and nectarines, Eastern Propak also works with Garden State blueberry farmers. Eastern Propak also packages “offshore” citrus, apples, mangos, grapes and cherries, keeping the plant humming year-round.

Because the firm is also packing apples from New Zealand, South Africa and Chile at the same time as its New Jersey peaches and nectarines, extra steps have to be taken.

“Apples give off ethylene, which is a ripening agent, and peaches are very sensitive to that. So our peaches are allocated their own coolers away from the apples,” Danner said.