PACKAGING REQUIREMENTS FOR FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Introduction Packaging fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the more important steps in the long and complicated journey from grower to consumer. Bags, crates, hampers, baskets, cartons, bulk bins, and palletized containers are convenient containers for handling, transporting, and marketing fresh produce. More than 1,500 different types of packages are used for produce in the U. and the number continues to increase as the industry introduces new packaging materials and concepts. Although the industry generally agrees that container standardization is one way to reduce cost, the trend in recent years has moved toward a wider range of package sizes to accommodate the diverse needs of wholesalers, consumers, food service buyers, and processing operations.
Packing and packaging materials contribute a significant cost to the produce industry; therefore it is important that packers, shippers, buyers, and consumers have a clear understanding of the wide range of packaging options available. This fact sheet describes some of the many types of packaging, including their functions, uses, and limitations. Also included is a listing, by commodity, of the common produce containers standard to the industry. The Function of Packaging or Why package Produce? A significant percentage of produce buyer and consumer complaints may be traced to container failure because of poor design or inappropriate selection and use. A properly designed produce container should contain, protect, and identify the produce, satisfying everyone from grower to consumer.
PACKAGING POINTS Recyclability/Biodegradability. A growing number of U. markets and many export markets have waste disposal restrictions for packaging materials. In the near future, almost all produce packaging will be recyclable or biodegradable, or both. Many of the largest buyers of fresh produce are also those most concerned about environmental issues. Variety. The trend is toward greater use of bulk packages for processors and wholesale buyers and smaller packages for consumers. There are now more than 1,500 different sizes and styles of produce packages. Sales Appeal.
High quality graphics are increasingly being used to boost sales appeal. Multi-color printing, distinctive lettering, and logos are now common. Shelf Life. Modern produce packaging can be custom engineered for each commodity to extend shelf life and reduce waste. Containment The container must enclose the produce in convenient units for handling and distribution. The produce should fit well inside the container, with little wasted space. Small produce items that are spherical or oblong (such as potatoes, onions, and apples) may be packaged efficiently utilizing a variety of different package shapes and sizes. However, many produce items such as asparagus, berries, or soft fruit may require containers specially designed for that item. packages of produce commonly handled by hand are usually limited to 50 pounds. Bulk packages moved by fork lifts may weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.
Protection The package must protect the produce from mechanical damage and poor environmental conditions during handling and distribution. To produce buyers, torn, dented, or collapsed produce packages usually indicate lack of care in handling the contents. Produce containers must be sturdy enough to resist damage during packaging, storage, and transportation to market. Because almost all produce packages are palletized, produce containers should have sufficient stacking strength to resist crushing in a low temperature, high humidity environment. Although the cost of packaging materials has escalated sharply in recent years, poor quality, lightweight containers that are easily damaged by handling or moisture are no longer tolerated by packers or buyers. Produce destined for export markets requires that containers to be extra sturdy. Air-freighted produce may require special packing, package sizes, and insulation. Marketers who export fresh produce should consult with freight companies about any special packaging requirements. Additionally, the USDA and various state export agencies may be able to provide specific packaging information. Damage resulting from poor environmental control during handling and transit is one of the leading causes of rejected produce and low buyer and consumer satisfaction.
Each fresh fruit and vegetable commodity has its own requirements for temperature, humidity, and environmental gas composition. Produce containers should be produce friendly - helping to maintain an optimum environment for the longest shelf life. This may include special materials to slow the loss of water from the produce, insulation materials to keep out the heat, or engineered plastic liners that maintain a favorable mix of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Identification The package must identify and provide useful information about the produce. It is customary (and may be required in some cases) to provide information such as the produce name, brand, size, grade, variety, net weight, count, grower, shipper, and country of origin. It is also becoming more common to find included on the package, nutritional information, recipes, and other useful information directed specifically at the consumer. In consumer marketing, pack- age appearance has also become an important part of point of sale displays. Universal Product Codes (UPC or bar codes) may be included as part of the labeling. The UPCs used in the food industry consist of a ten-digit machine readable code.