Loading & Shipping Grapes

The following is taken from the Guidelines for Loading Refrigerated Trailers with Fresh Table Grapes and Tree Fruit handbook, provided by the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

Placement in truck trailers

If possible, avoid placing grapes and tree fruit tightly against smooth trailer walls. Product loaded tightly against these walls will restrict airflow and may cause temperature increases to the fruit loaded next to the wall. Air channels along the walls will allow heat that is conducted through the walls to be removed. Fruit should be properly packaged, unitized and stabilized in the vehicle.

Inadequate packages and pallets may result in breakage claims and losses in the marketplace. It may also result in a load shift during transit, creating further physical damage to the fruit and an inadequate airflow to the load.

Improper bracing at the rear of the load may cause packages to fall against the rear door, restricting air flow and allowing a rise in fruit temperatures. Also, loose packages may fall when the doors are opened.

Horizontally strapped pallets should include corner boards. Vertical strapping alone on interlocking boxes will not prevent load shift. Inexpensive netting without proper tension may result in load instability.

Successful patterns for fruit pallets

Alternating Pattern

In a pinwheel pattern

Alternating Pattern

Two pallets loaded straight in and alternately loaded on one side and then the other

Straight Pattern

With two rows of pallets straight in with an air channel in the center of the trailer

Side-to-side loading Pattern 2 results in the least load contact with the trailer’s walls and is recommended. Mini airbags should be used to stabilize these loads. Most over-the-road tractor/trailer combinations can legally gross 80,000 pounds. Also, there are individual axle weight limitations. Most 48-foot long refrigerated trailers, with proper weight distribution over the axles, can carry a payload of about 46,000 pounds. Ask the driver for his input and advice. His advice, however, may be conservative on the amount that can be loaded. It may sometimes be difficult to maximize the loading weight. The buyer needs to have as close to the maximum amount of fruit loaded as possible to keep his costs down. The driver, however, cannot go over the legal total or axle weight without risk of getting a ticket.

Tips for loading freight

  • Check packaging and pallets for breakage on every unit that is loaded.
  • Stabilize each pallet in the vehicle with another pallet of fruit or with load bars and/or gates. Pallet units may be loaded in a pinwheel pattern or straight into the trailer (See diagrams above).
  • If it is necessary to single load pallets, do not load them over the rear axles or put the first pallet in the nose. The roughest ride on a truck is over the axles of steel-spring trailers. If the driver insists on this practice, have him sign off on the manifest that he demands that loading pattern. Single pallets should be tightly loaded lengthwise.
  • DO NOT place loose packages directly on the floor. This will block the airpath and result in uneven load temperatures.
  • DO NOT load damage-sensitive fruit over the rear axles.
  • Always secure the last four pallets with air bags and at least two load locks. Partial loads should also be secured with an air bag.
  • Avoid loading bruise-sensitive fruit or shatter-prone grapes over steel-spring axles. Trailers with air-ride suspensions provide a smoother ride.


Most new over-the-road trailers are 48 feet long with an inside width of 97 inches. Some are 53 feet long. Fully loaded with grapes and tree fruit, these trailers would exceed highway weight limits. Therefore, it is often necessary to load some single pallets in the trailer to properly distribute the weight. The truck driver should determine the position of these pallets, but the single pallets should not be loaded over the rear axle.

Federal law provides for a weight of 20,000 pounds on a single axle; 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle; and 80,000 pounds for gross vehicle weight (GVW). The general limits are further controlled by a “Bridge Formula” that limits the total weight in accordance with axle spacing. Vehicles with shorter distances between axles are allowed lower total weight.