Packaging That Keeps Produce Fresh
by Claire Koelsch Sand, Food Technology Magazine
Packaging produce so that it arrives fresh to consumers requires finesse. Produce packaging plays different roles in business-to-business (B2B) and retailer-to-consumer delivery. In urban areas, produce loss occurs mostly during the retailer-to-consumer exchange, and in rural areas, more produce is lost from farms to retailers. In both situations, reducing food waste by extending pro-duce shelf life is critical.
In the United States, 35%–50% of fresh fruits and vegetables are wasted; most of this occurs post-retail. This means that produce goes through an energy-intensive supply chain and then is not consumed. Reducing consumers’ produce waste would result in a more cost-effective, efficient, and environ- mentally friendly food supply. In other regions such as Latin America, much food waste occurs in agricultural and post-harvest handling. While loss at this stage represents less environmental impact than consumer-driven produce loss, loss rates of 40% for produce are common at this early stage. Packaging needs to provide more cost-effective and sustainable solutions to reduce this waste. In B2B shipments of produce, packaging solutions include cushioning to prevent physical damage, providing dynamic controlled atmospheres, and enabling reduced microbial loads. At retail, containers for precut produce, controlled atmospheres, and active packaging extend produce shelf life in an appealing manner.
Keeping Produce Fresh B2B
Packaging suitable for shipping produce from farms to retailers or from distributors to food processors needs to provide physical protection, keep vegetables and fruits fresh, aid in on-time ripening, allow for retail- friendly presentation, and control microbial loads and enzymatic activity. B2B produce packaging uses recyclable and/or returnable cases, cushioning material, and venting to allow for rapid modulation of controlled atmosphere storage and temperatures.
Returnable and recyclable options include wood fiber–based corrugated trays, high-density polyethylene totes, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) clamshells, corrugated polypropylene and paper bags. The common European footprint standard for produce trays enables consistent stackable produce trays, simplifies supply chain, and optimizes transport logistics by increasing efficiency in produce handling. Material for cushioning is produce-dependent, and common methods such as foam nets to wrap individual produce, single-face corrugation, and internal support systems within cases are being combined with returnable packaging cases to provide easily reusable packaging systems. Cases and cushioning materials are also increasingly integrated with PET clam- shells that provide static and dynamic support as well as a retail friendly display. These advances reduce handling and food waste.
Dynamic controlled atmospheres are commonly used throughout the produce distribution process to allow produce to ripen as it is needed by retailers. Controlled ripening is typically monitored based on the ethanol or chlorophyll levels of vegetables and fruits. And gases such as nitric oxide decrease rates of ripening. Continuous control of respiration rates to maintain shelf life in warehouses and during distribution is important and has been the focus of companies such as Moxiyo (moxiyo.com), which offers Air Daddi for warehoused products. “Placing Air Daddi in front of cooling vents within walk-in retailer coolers reduces air temperatures rapidly as well as imparts [carbon dioxide] into the atmosphere,” explains Peter Fuller, inventor and president of Moxiyo. “Interestingly, since carbon dioxide permeability is higher than oxygen through packaging, the carbon dioxide generated by the Air Daddi permeates through packaging to increase shelf life.” International outbreaks of Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli that are associated with produce have caused distributors to increase safety measures for post-harvest processing of fresh produce. Treatments that control microbial loads include the use of cold treatments for imported produce, chlorine-based solutions, mold inhibitors, peroxyacetic acid, organic acids, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, and 1-methylcyclopropene.
Enzymatic activity is controlled with carbon dioxide, ascorbic acid, and cal- cium-based solutions. Altering package atmosphere also helps modulate ripening and extend product shelf life. Flushing a package with gas increases product shelf life by creating an artificial atmosphere, but as produce respires, packaging needs to allow the exchange of gases to slow respiration rates. Continuous regulation of the atmosphere within a package is needed for optimal produce shelf life. This helps reduce shrinkage of B2B produce as well as reduce produce loss in con- sumer refrigerators. Moxiyo’s sachets extend produce shelf life within a pack- age by supplying a continuously regulated supply of carbon dioxide for 35 days.
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Food Technology Magazine January 2018 Packaging Column