Coconuts [German version]

Table of contents

Product information
  Container transport
  Cargo securing

Risk factors and loss prevention:
Temperature Odor
Humidity/Moisture Contamination
Ventilation Mechanical influences
Biotic activity Toxicity / Hazards to health
Gases Shrinkage/Shortage
Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion Insect infestation / Diseases

Product information

Product name

German Kokosnüsse
English Coconuts
French Noix de coco
Spanish Coco, nuezes de coco
Scientific Cocos nucifera
CN/HS number * 0801 19 00

(* EU Combined Nomenclature/Harmonized System)

Product description

Coconuts are the stone fruits of the coconut palm of the palm family (Palmae, Arecaceae) which flourish best in tropical coastal regions (salt spray). The native habitat of the coconut palm is not known with certainty because coconuts can float for considerable distances in seawater without losing their ability to germinate. As a result, coconuts palms are now to be found on tropical beaches worldwide.

50 – 120 fruit may be harvested from a single coconut palm. Each fruit weighs 1 – 2.5 kg. The coco-de-mer or Seychelles double coconut is the largest coconut and may weigh as much as 20 kg (see Figure 8).

A longitudinal section through a coconut reveals the following structure (see Figure 3): the coconut is enclosed in a leathery, glossy outer skin (exocarp), which is of a yellow-green to yellow-brown color and is watertight. Under the exocarp is a spongy, fibrous husk (coir) or mesocarp, which is 4 – 6 cm in thickness. This layer corresponds to the flesh (pulp) of other fruit. The fibrous husk is removed from the hard nut with a spike. The fibers are processed to produce carpeting, mats and the like. Removal of the coir reveals the familiar coconut. The outer layer of the coconut is a brown, very hard endocarp, approx. 0.5 cm thick, which is a rounded, triangular stone, the blunt end of which has three „eyes“, i.e. germ pores set in pits (see Figure 4).

Moving inwards, the following layer is the solid endosperm, an oily layer 1 – 2 cm in thickness which is protected by a brown seed coat and, once dried, yields copra. The seed coat contains antioxidants which protect the oil-rich seed from atmospheric oxygen so preventing it from becoming rancid (oxidative rancidity).

The kernel is hollow and 95% full of clear coconut milk (liquid endosperm).

Coconuts which are intended for transport have generally already had the outermost two layers removed.

Coconuts are shell fruit (nut types). Because of their similar characteristics with regard to transport, particularly their high oil content, their requirements regarding care during storage and transport are the same as those of oil-bearing seeds/fruits.

Oil content: 30 – 40% [1]

Quality / Duration of storage

Coconuts which are 6 – 7 months in age contain the most milk. As ripening continues, the coconut milk solidifies to form white kernel or flesh (copra). Once all the milk has solidified, the flesh takes on a soapy flavor, becomes inedible and is worthless.

Usual delivery terms thus include:

„without bast fibers, with beard“ (to protect the „eyes“ which are located on the stem side)
approx. 95% milk

When accepting a cargo, damaged nuts, those without milk (test by shaking) and germinating nuts must be rejected.

At 0°C and a relative humidity of 90%, coconuts have a storage life of up to 2 months, but only of approx. 2 weeks at storage temperatures of 5 – 25°C.

Intended use

Fresh coconuts are mainly eaten raw. Further coconut products: sterilized coconut milk for alcoholic drinks (e.g. pina colada), desiccated coconut, coconut fat, coconut oil, coconut fibers, copra.


(Click on the individual Figures to enlarge them.)

Photo, coconuts

Figure 1
Photo, coconuts

Figure 2
Drawing, coconuts

Figure 3
Photo, coconuts

Figure 4
Photo, coconuts

Figure 5
Photo, coconuts

Figure 6
Photo, coconuts

Figure 7
Photo, coconut

Figure 8

Countries of origin

This Table shows only a selection of the most important countries of origin and should not be thought of as exhaustive.

Africa Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana
Asia Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malay Archipelago
America Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil

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Coconuts are packaged in, among other things, bags (coconut fiber netting bags containing 60 – 100 nuts, 50 kg jute polysacks).

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Symbol, general cargo

General cargo


Means of transport

Ship, railroad, truck, aircraft

Container transport

Refrigerated container with fresh air supply. Also possible (but not ideal): ventilated containers (coffee containers), if protection against solar radiation is ensured (risk of self-heating and spoilage due to bursting).

Cargo handling

In damp weather (rain, snow), the cargo must be protected from moisture, since it may lead to mold, spoilage and self-heating as a result of increased respiratory activity.

No hooks should be used with bagged cargo, so as to prevent damage to the bags and loss of volume.

Stowage factor

1.63 m3/t (flat jute fabric bags, 36 – 60 kg) [1]
2.51 – 2.79 m3/t (bags) [11]
2.65 – 2.79 m3/t (bulk) [11]
2.51 – 3.40 m3/t (bags) [14]
2.65 – 3.96 m3/t (bulk) [14]

Stowage space requirements

Cool, dry, good ventilation


Fiber rope, thin fiber nets

Cargo securing

In order to ensure safe transport, the bags must be stowed and secured in the means of transport in such a manner that they cannot slip or shift during transport. Attention must also be paid to stowage patterns which may be required as a result of special considerations, such as ventilation measures.

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Risk factors and loss prevention

RF Temperature

Coconuts require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

For this reason, precise details should always be obtained from the consignor as to the travel temperature to be maintained.

Designation Temperature range Source
Favorable travel temperature range 0°C [1]
0°C [5]
0 – 2°C [14]

In order to ensure ideal transport conditions, coconuts should be treated as refrigerated cargo. If appropriately equipped means of transport are available, they may also be transported conventionally, provided that a cool (5 – 25°C) and well ventilated hold is used.

Coconuts should not be exposed to direct solar radiation, as they would otherwise burst, leak and consequently arrive at the port of destination without coconut milk.

Do not stow coconuts near heat sources.

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RF Humidity/Moisture

Coconuts require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

Designation Humidity/water content Source
Relative humidity 80% [1]
90% [5]
Water content 42 – 48% [1]
Maximum equilibrium moisture content 75% [1]

If the coconuts are not completely dry, they must be kept away from moisture-sensitive cargoes. Take particular care not to stow them close to dry sugar, nor close to other moisture-sensitive cargoes, because the nuts release water vapor and may self-heat.

An excessive intrinsic moisture content of the nuts and the consequent heat result in germination.

Seawater (especially splashes during lighterage), rain and condensation water (ship or container sweat) promote hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage, which leads to self-heating due to increased respiration and promotes mold growth. Mold penetrates the shell making the flesh inedible.

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RF Ventilation

Coconuts require particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions (SC VII) (storage climate conditions).

Recommended ventilation conditions: air exchange rate: 6 changes/hour (airing)

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RF Biotic activity

Coconuts display 2nd order biotic activity.

They are living organs in which respiration processes predominate, because their supply of new nutrients has been cut off by separation from the parent plant.

Care of the cargo during the voyage must be aimed at keeping decomposition processes at the lowest possible level, so as to keep within limits any losses in quality caused by the emission of CO2, heat and water vapor.

As ripening continues, the coconut milk solidifies in the fruit to form white kernel or flesh. Once all the milk has solidified, the flesh takes on a soapy flavor, becomes inedible and is worthless. As a result, coconuts have only a limited storage life (up to a maximum of 2 months).

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RF Gases

Coconuts produce ripening gases (particularly CO2) as a result of the respiration processes which continue postharvest. 

If ventilation has been inadequate (frost) or has failed owing to a defect, life-threatening CO2 concentrations or O2 shortages may arise. Therefore, before anybody enters the hold, it must be ventilated and a gas measurement carried out. The TLV for CO2 concentration is 0.49 vol.%.

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RF Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion

Oil content: 30 – 40% [1]

Due to the high oil content in the copra layer, coconuts have a tendency to self-heating and may behave like a substance from class 4.2 of the IMDG Code.

Fat decomposition in coconuts leads to the risk of self-heating and, ultimately, to a cargo fire.

Fat decomposition may proceed as follows:

by hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage or
by oxidative fat cleavage

Hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage:

If the critical water content of coconuts is exceeded, this promotes hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage. Fat-cleaving enzymes are activated by the elevated water content. The additional action of light and heat may accelerate this process. Free fatty acids sometimes have an unpleasant odor and taste. In the event of extended storage or improper cargo care, these cause the cargo to become rancid.

The self-heating of coconuts requires only a small seat of moisture, so that within just a few hours heating may occur at moist points for which weeks or months would be required in goods dry on shipment.

Fresh coconuts with a high water content tend in particular towards rapid self-heating and may also ignite. Self-heating of coconuts leads not only to a reduction in the utility value of this product (rancid odor and taste) but also has a qualitative and quantitative effect on oil yield. The color and bleachability of the oils are also negatively affected. The oil obtained complicates refining of the crude oils in subsequent processing, because a higher free fatty acid content makes decolorization substantially more difficult.

Hydrolytic/enzymatic fat cleavage may be limited by low temperatures; however, this may only be affected to a limited degree during transport. It is therefore important to ensure storage stability by complying with the limit values for the water content of the goods.

Oxidative fat cleavage:

Food components frequently react with atmospheric oxygen in spoilage processes. Atmospheric oxygen may enter into an addition reaction with unsaturated fatty acids through the simultaneous assistance of light, heat and certain fat companion substances, and possibly also traces of heavy metals. It is therefore absolutely essential to store coconuts in the dark and to protect them from oxygen and metal parts, since otherwise they become brown-colored and develop a rancid odor and taste.

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RF Odor

Active behavior Coconuts have a slight, pleasant odor.
Passive behavior Coconuts are sensitive to cargoes with an unpleasant and/or pungent odor.

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RF Contamination

Active behavior Coconuts may produce dust.
Passive behavior Coconuts are sensitive to dust, dirt, fats and oils. The holds/containers must accordingly be clean and in a thoroughly hygienic condition before loading.

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RF Mechanical influences

Coconuts are extremely sensitive to pressure, impact and jolting/vibration. Incorrect handling quickly results in smashed and burst fruit, which are worthless and also give rise to mold and rot on adjacent, unblemished nuts. There is also a risk that the nuts will burst under excessive stack pressure. Hooks must not be used.

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RF Toxicity / Hazards to health

Evolution of CO2 due to respiration, especially with fresh goods. 

If ventilation has been inadequate (frost) or has failed owing to a defect, life-threatening CO2 concentrations or O2 shortages may arise. Therefore, before anybody enters the hold, it must be ventilated and a gas measurement carried out. The TLV for CO2 concentration is 0.49 vol.%.

One practical example illustrates the hazard caused by an elevated carbon dioxide concentration. Coconuts were loaded in the cargo tanks, which cannot be ventilated, of an ocean-going vessel. After a tank had been opened at the port of discharge, a dock worker climbed into the cargo tank and collapsed. A ship’s officer attempting to help him also collapsed. Both suffocated due to the build-up of CO2 and the consequent shortage of oxygen in the lower parts of the tank.

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RF Shrinkage/Shortage

The normal weight loss due to evaporation of the intrinsic moisture content is 3 – 8%.

The threshold for spoilage is usually set at a weight loss of 5%. Comparatively high relative humidities of 80 – 90% are required to counteract evaporation of the intrinsic moisture content.

Loss of volume may be caused by tears in bags and by theft.

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RF Insect infestation / Diseases

Insect infestation generally occurs during storage prior to loading and may cause considerable damage.

The flesh of coconuts which have become excessively moist may also be infected with mold spores before shipment. Mold penetrates the shell making the flesh musty and thus inedible.

The quarantine regulations of the country of destination must be complied with and a phytosanitary certificate and fumigation certificate may have to be enclosed with the shipping documents. Information may be obtained from the phytosanitary authorities of the countries concerned.

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