Corrugated trays keep fruit fresher and safer than reusable plastic crates (RPC), according to scientific research.
The research by the University of Bologna in Italy found that corrugated trays ensured better quality packed fruits and a longer shelf life, reducing fruit microbial cross contamination. This decreases the risk of food-borne illnesses and increases fruit shelf life, as well as retaining the fruit's freshness, scent, appearance and taste. Contamination of fruit and vegetables is a major concern for retailers, both in terms of food safety and shelf life.
The research looked at the exchange of microbes between produce and packaging and how different packaging can influence cross contamination. The researchers placed peaches in plastic crates and corrugated trays - each with the same amount of bacteria - and measured the transfer of the micro-organisms to the packaged fruit. The fruit reached contamination levels generally associated with fruit spoilage 48-72 hours earlier in the plastic crates than in the corrugated trays.
Temperature, time before sale and superficial damage were all taken into consideration, but the transfer was always lower for corrugated trays. The tests also showed that in some conditions (eg high storage temperature) up to 95% of the peaches packed in plastic crates were contaminated with E. coli after 48 hours. In contrast, the E. coli contamination level never exceeded 25% of the peaches packed in corrugated trays.
Jan Gramsma, market and environment director for the European Corrugated Packaging Association (Fefco), said: "When it comes to preventing microbiological contamination, the science is in no doubt: corrugated board is far superior to RPC. Both the European Food Safety Agency and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say fresh produce can be a source of contamination leading to food-borne illnesses. Until now, we did not have undeniable proof that packaging was a factor. Our message to retailers is simple and clear: corrugated [packaging] keeps produce fresh and safe."
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