POLSON – Strict quality control happens for Flathead Cherries before they hit stands and grocery stores.
Cherry growers from around Montana drop off hundreds of pounds of cherries to a warehouse in Polson for inspection.
Linda Knight, who has managed the warehouse for 20 years, says the quality processes were developed after years of trial and error.
“We receive the cherries from the individual growers, ticket them out, so they’re recorded with the number of bins how many cherries and the type of cherries,” Knight explained.
“We run them through the hydro cooler and then we ship them in semi-trucks approximately average say 116 to 114 bins per truck throughout the season, every day we try to empty the warehouse,” she added.
The cherries are all randomly inspected for bugs/larvae.
Handfuls of cherries are picked and then placed through a processor where they are mixed with a brown sugar and water solution which brings any bugs to the surface.
If any bugs are found in the cherries, that entire batch will not be sold.
Cherry grower Bruce Johnson says there have been no issues with bugs this year.
To keep cherries fresh upon grocery store arrival, cherry grower Johnson tells MTN the cherries need to be the perfect temperature.
All the cherries are placed in a huge refrigerator to keep cool while they wait to be shipped.
“Get the fruit as cold as they can fast, put it in the refrigerator, keep it cold there. And once they get enough bins to load a truck, the trucks are loaded.”
Johnson says the trucks the cherries are shipped in are refrigerated. He added the cooler temperatures this year have been the growers behind about four days.
“Cherries like hot weather, like 80 degrees that’s good for cherries and then it’ll cool back to like 50 degrees at night. That’s really nice for cherries,” explained Johnson
However, Johnson explains, it’s a delicate weather balance. Too hot and the fruit can mush and bruise easily, too cold and the flowers won’t bloom.
Johnson says people should be seeing cherries in the grocery stores and stands now, but more will be available in the coming weeks.
Reporting by Maren Siu for MTN News