By Mark A. Ritenour
The holiday season is a busy time for sending friends and family thoughtful gifts. For Floridians, the abundance of fresh produce during the winter months motivates many to share the experience with others. This is especially true for fresh citrus. Florida’s citrus gift fruit shippers have been supplying such treats for decades.
With COVID-19 and a focus on healthy foods, the demand for fresh citrus is strong. However, before picking fruit off your own backyard tree to ship as gifts, keep in mind that there are specific requirements that must be met before sending citrus fruit out of Florida.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have quarantined the entire state for citrus canker and sweet orange scab, and certain areas in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades, Charlotte and Polk counties for citrus black spot (CBS). The result is that there are regulations governing how the fruit must be treated before it can be moved and sent to other areas of the state or country. These treatments have specific requirements for washing, brushing, disinfestation and waxing.
Compliance agreements are established between the USDA and packinghouses to make sure those treatments are administered effectively. For areas quarantined for CBS, to limit the spread within the state, fruit must be transported to packinghouse facilities in an enclosed vehicle with no leaves or stems longer than half an inch within the container. Details on fresh citrus shipment procedures can be found here.
All fruit sent out of Florida, even from individual homeowners, must receive specific treatments by a packinghouse operating under a USDA-APHIS compliance agreement. Fortunately, there are some packinghouses in Florida willing to administer these treatments and provide the required documentation. See the list of participating packinghouses here. Working through one of these facilities allows homeowners to continue safely sending a touch of their own Florida bounty to friends and family in other parts of the nation still under the blanket of winter.
Mark A. Ritenour is a professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce.