Do florists need refrigerated vans?
June 1, 2010 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Do florists need refrigerated vans? How do they keep flowers looking fresh without one?
posted by coco124 to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
I suspect that standard air conditioning in the van works just fine for this...after all, your house isn't "refrigerated" when the flowers are delivered and they are just fine, aren't they?
posted by HuronBob at 8:52 AM on June 1, 2010

It depends on the climate. Refrigerated vans are not the norm in Ireland; they very well could be in Florida.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:55 AM on June 1, 2010

I used to deliver flowers for a cut-rate florist in my Honda CRX. The air conditioning was usually enough to keep my car cool enough for the flowers, although I did have to put up a screen over the large back window to keep the sun off of them in the hottest part of summer (100+ temps where I live).
posted by elsietheeel at 9:02 AM on June 1, 2010

I work for a florist. Some warmth is good for flowers. It helps them harden off, which is to say it helps them adjust to the climate and start to open. They're kept here in refrigerated rooms until it's time to use them in arrangements. We don't use refrigerated vans, and unfortunately for our drivers, some of the vans aren't even air-conditioned. The windows are tinted with some sort of special UV protection. We only put a few hours worth of deliveries into the vans at the same time, so that the flowers aren't sitting in a van all day in 110 degree heat with sun beating down on them.
posted by iconomy at 9:06 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I delivered flowers for two summers in a white cargo van with no A/C and only AM radio. Forget the flowers, I was getting baked mentally and physically. Summer in NY was brutal. I used to get out of the van and walk directly into the walk in refrigerator and regroup. I used to shorten my runs so that flowers were not in the van for more than 30 minutes, but other than having them in water, they did not have problems. I also used to get as many deliveries in before noon as possible.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:20 AM on June 1, 2010

(A warning: this is going to be long, tl;dr versions at the end.)

I grew up on a flower farm and we never had a refrigerated van or truck for delivering our flowers from the farm to markets or florists. However, post-harvest and transportation care depends somewhat on the type flower and how the flower will be used.

The first and most important step to keeping flowers looking fresh starts way before any cut is made: choosing the right flower. Some varieties or species are better for cut flower than others. This is why your grandmother’s single-type peony only lasts a few hours after it has been cut, when some good cut-flower varieties can last for weeks (I’ve had customers claim that flowers we’ve sold them lasted for nearly a month).

The second (and second most important) step to keeping flowers looking good and fresh is making sure you start with a good flower. Again, the stage to cut a flower depends on the variety and species of flower. Some can be cut when the flower bud is still hard, others must be cut immediately after it has fully opened. The best time to cut most flowers is early in the morning or late in the evening right after they were watered. This is when the plant is most hydrated and under the least amount of stress. However, in a production cut flower setting it is impossible to only cut for two, three hours a day. Therefore, you must hope that the weather cooperates, stays cool and (Zeus willing) overcast.

Good post-harvest care starts when the cut is made, for most flowers, it’s best to make the cut right above a leaf (for best plant health), and not on a knot or where a branch splits. Knots and branches hinder water uptake, sometimes by as much as 75%. Care must be taken when cutting as well, this is a living plant, and the tool used to cut must be sharp and clean, just like with vegetables or in a surgeon’s operating room. The reason most flower growers don’t do this is because unlike with food, the cut flower industry isn’t subject to the strict food safety and health rules of the USDA and FDA. Flowers are living organisms, and a dirty flower will die just as quickly as a poorly harvested head of lettuce. Many high quality flower growers actually have jars of cleansing solution to dip their shears at the end of each row of flowers to keep their blades clean and to sanitize stems. After cutting, we remove all unnecessary foliage, which would otherwise divert precious water from the flower itself. Furthermore, extra foliage will dirty the water in the bucket.

Speaking of buckets, while many flower growers and flower shops reuse their buckets without washing, this is a huge no-no. For the best quality flower, buckets should be fully washed between uses. Yes, with soap. Dish soap works wonderfully, though a few companies offer specialized bucket cleaning solution. Cleanliness is absolutely paramount.

Back to harvesting. It is best to get the newly harvested flowers into water immediately, that way, the flow of water going up the stem is uninterrupted. However, just as important is making sure that the stems are properly bunched and packed into the bucket. Most flowers should be bunched in equal length from the tip of the flower to the stem, and then tied off with a rubber band. This is the easiest way to tell if a bunch of flowers has been cared for properly. Bunches should not be banded together like this; the stems will separate the first time after being pulled in and out of the bucket, catch on other bunches, never touch the water, and rip foliage to shreds. Instead, they should be wrapped tightly (sorry, I used chopsticks since I don’t have any flowers in my apartment at the moment); this makes sure the stems stay together and even no matter how the bunch is handled.

The bucket should be filled with cold water, and for some flowers, they should be treated with a flower preserve. This is not the same preserve that you get as packets. Again, the first stage of flower preservation depends on the flower, some sensitive to particular pathogens and chemicals than others are, but the basic post harvest solution will be low acid (usually pH of 4.5 to 5.5) and provide some sort of barrier to contaminants.

After being cut, the flowers should immediately be brought into a cool, dark place; preferably a walk-in cooler. If the flowers were not treated or processed in the field, they are processed and bunched in the cooler (or reprocessed). Each bucket has a normal number of bunches (10 or 15), this way it is easy to track inventory. Here they are switched to a new preservative solution which slows down their metabolism to a minimum and offers nutrients that will help preserve their freshness. The cooler is usually kept at 3 to 7 degrees centigrade. Air must be constantly circulated and conditioned to remove moisture (after all, each flower bucket has anywhere from 2 to 5 gallons of water, and the cut flowers are still respirating). Water should be replaced every day, no less than every other day (the preservative solution is good for 36 to 48 hours). Usually flowers are kept for no more than a day, but it is possible to keep some flowers for weeks to a month to wait for better market prices, but the longer the flower is kept in storage, the more potential problems and greater the possibility of loss product.

If the flowers are being shipped overnight, they are usually packed dry (no water) in bags in boxes usually with newspaper and blue ice to keep them cool, this usually keeps the flowers down at around 45 to 55 degrees for 24 hours. Though I’ve never had experience with them, this is almost definitely how flowers imported from foreign countries are packed as well. If it is a larger shipment cross country, they are packed into refrigerated semi containers, usually with only a gallon or two of water in each bucket and no light.

However, if they are being taken to market locally, like most of our flowers, we pack them into a truck and crank up the air conditioning. Once they’re at the flower market (usually a wholesale flower market), they are switched to another preservative that offers more nutrients and doesn’t slow their metabolism as much, this is usually the solution they’ll stay in until the end customer buys them. At market, they are no longer in a refrigerated environment, while there are coolers, most of the product is not kept refrigerated. The market is usually somewhere around 60 to 65 degrees. The flowers are usually at the market no more than 48 hours after being picked, and less than 24 hours away from the customer, so the stage of bloom becomes important. Usually florists buy on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and most wholesale markets are geared around this schedule. Florists will buy flowers that are close to opening or starting to open for the day of purchase, as well as flowers that are not yet ready for the next day (or for the weekend). To transport them back to their shops, non of the florists I knew had refrigerated trucks, but many of them tinted their windows and recharged their a/c every spring; so did we.

When the florist uses the flowers in bouquets, they will often switch the the end of life flower food. This is no longer a preservative, but an actual plant food. It mostly consists of nutrients, plant sugars, and acids to lower the pH low which keeps bacteria from growing, but has few preservatives.

If buying the flowers from a good local florist, flowers are usually on your table no more than 4 days after it was harvested, if international, no more than a week. This is what keeps them looking fresh. However, there are ways to keep some flowers (such as peonies) stored for weeks or months, before sold to the florist to get the best price. Usually only good growers and wholesalers have the capability and knowledge to do this so only a minimum of quality is lost, but some florists (especially grocery store florists) will keep product way after their best-by dates.

Too long; didn’t read version:
  1. Start with a good flower variety.
  2. Cut at the right time, process and bunch properly.
  3. Preserve properly, keep it clean.
  4. Keep cool and clean, change water often until it gets to market
  5. Refrigerate when possible, but not necessary.
Still too long; didn’t read version: No, refrigerated vans are not necessary. Choosing good cut flower varieties and proper post-harvest care are more important.
posted by thebestsophist at 12:42 PM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Sorry, the first link should be this
posted by thebestsophist at 12:43 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for all the responses, long and short. All very helpful.
posted by coco124 at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2010

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