Fresh produce has a long and difficult trip from the farm to your table, and packaging is a crucial step along the way. Produce may be stored, transported, and sold in a variety of suitable containers, including bags, crates, hinders, baskets, bags, bulk dumpsters, and palletized containers. The United States uses around 1,500 unique containers for its produce, and that number is expected to grow as new packaging materials and ideas are introduced. Despite widespread agreement that standardizing containers may save costs, the industry has recently shifted toward offering a greater variety of packaging sizes to meet the demands of retailers, customers, restaurants, and other processors.
Produce packers, shippers, purchasers, and consumers all benefit from having a thorough awareness of the many packaging alternatives accessible to them since packaging and packaging materials are a major expense for the produce sector. This data sheet discusses several packing options, including their advantages and disadvantages. The industry-standard produce containers are also included below, organized by kind of produce.
The Reason for Produce Packaging – What is the Purpose of Packaging?
Container failure due to poor design or unsuitable selection or usage may be at the root of many produce buyer and consumer complaints. A well-designed produce container will do its job of holding, protecting, and labeling the fruit while also making the producer and buyer happy.
BASICS OF PACKAGING
Waste disposal regulations for packaging materials are becoming more common in several export markets including the United States. Packaging for most fruits and vegetables will soon be compostable, biodegradable, or both. Many of the biggest consumers of fruits and vegetables are also the most environmentally conscious.
The packaging industry is shifting toward larger quantities for industrial users and larger sizes for retail customers. More than 1,500 unique shapes and sizes of vegetable containers are on the market today.
The usage of high-quality graphics to improve sales is on the rise. Nowadays, it’s typical to see printing with several colors, as well as unique fonts and logos.
Term of use.
To maximize freshness and minimize spoilage, modern produce packaging may be tailored to each individual product.
The product must be contained in easily transportable and distributable portions inside the container. There shouldn’t be much extra room around the vegetables in the container. Packages of varying sizes and forms may be used effectively to transport and store small, round or elongated fruits and vegetables like potatoes, onions, and apples. Asparagus, berries, and delicate fruits, on the other hand, may need to be stored in containers made specifically for them.
The standard maximum for produce shipments that can be easily handled by hand is 50 pounds. Forklifts can carry loads as heavy as 1,200 pounds.
During handling and delivery, the product’s packaging should shield it from mechanical damage and unfavorable climatic conditions. Damaged, damaged, or sagging product packaging frequently signals carelessness to consumers. Produce packaging must be robust enough to withstand handling across the whole supply chain, from harvest to consumer.
product containers need to have enough stacking strength to avoid crushing in a low temperature, high humidity environment since practically all product packaging are palletized. Despite the dramatic rise in the price of packing materials in recent years, packers and buyers no longer accept low-quality, lightweight containers that are quickly destroyed by handling or moisture.
Stronger containers are needed for food that will be sent overseas. Produce that is being air-freighted may have unique packaging, box dimensions, and insulation needs. Before shipping perishable goods overseas, retailers should check with shipping firms to see whether any additional packing is needed for perishable goods. Specific packing details may also be available from the USDA and other state export authorities.
One of the primary reasons of rejected product and low buyer and customer satisfaction is damage arising from inadequate environmental management during handling and shipping. There are specific conditions needed for the safe storage of various types of fresh produce.
Produce container should be produce friendly, meaning they aid to maintain an ideal atmosphere for the fruit to stay fresh for as long as possible. These may contain plastic liners designed to ensure a healthy balance of the two gases in the air, insulation to keep the heat out, or other specialized materials.
The labeling on the packaging has to be clear and informative. Name, the company, size, evaluate, variety, net thereby affecting their count, grower, shipper, country of origin, and any other relevant information about the product is expected and often needed. Nutritional details, recipes, and other helpful information catered to the individual customer are increasingly being placed on packaging. Point-of-sale packaging has evolved into an integral aspect of consumer product advertising.
UPCs, often known as barcodes, may be a component of the labeling process. The universal product codes (UPCs) used in food manufacturing are 10-digit numbers that can be read by machines. The first five numbers identify the maker (packer or ship) and the next five digits describe the product in detail, including the kind of produce and the size of the package. UPCs are being employed by packers, transporters, buyers, and retailers as a quick and efficient way of inventory management and cost accounting, despite the fact that no pricing information is present. Coordinating with all parties involved in the package’s lifecycle is essential for making effective use of UPCs.
Different Materials Used for Packaging
Most perishable food is transported to stores and supermarkets on pallets. The first widespread usage of pallets as a practical means of transporting products occurred during WWII. About 190% of the 700,000,000 pallets manufactured annually in the United States are used by the produce business. Nearly half of these are one-time-use pallets. Due to the fact that many pallets are not conventional sizes, they are manufactured cheaply and thrown away after a single usage. The growing cost of containers and landfill tipping fees, as well as criticism from environmental organizations, have quickened standardization efforts that had been proceeding slowly for many years.
Over time, a 40-inch wide by 48-inch length pallet has become de facto standard. There are several positive outcomes from promoting reuse via standardization. Most pallet holders and computerized pallet handling machinery are designed to accommodate standard-sized pallets, which has the added benefit of decreasing costs due to their reusability. Standard-sized pallets are more space-efficient in trucks and vans, can support greater weight, and are more durable than disposable ones. Use of only one pallet size also has the potential to save down on pallet maintenance and disposal expenses, as well as storage and inventory costs. The standardization of product containers would be aided by the widespread use of pallets in the produce business.
A new pallet replacement was launched in the early 1950s. A slipsheet is a sheet of corrugated fiberboard, plastic, or a hybrid of these materials, cut to fit a standard pallet. Rather of using pallets, product bundles are placed directly on one sheet. Once the boxes are in position, a forklift with a metal sheet in place of its prongs moves them.
In comparison to pallets, slipsheets save money in many ways: they are easier to find, store, and operate; they may be used several times; and they lower the total weight in kilograms of the cargo. However, they call for specialized forklift attachments at every stage of the distribution chain, from packer to retail.
The same pallet may hold anything from twenty to one hundred separate packets of vegetables, depending on their particular sizes. These packages need to be fastened (unitized) to avoid moving during handling and transportation since they are often piled loosely to allow for circulation of air or because they have bulging edges and difficult to stack uniformly. Plastic harnesses and tapes are often employed, however the results may not be ideal. Always use corner tabs made of plastic or paper to protect packages’ corners from being crushed by the straps.
Produce packaging plastic film with stretch is commonly utilized. Good packaging film will stretch without losing its elasticity and will stick to packages. Plastic film has the flexibility to adapt to loads of varying sizes. It can partially be automated, helps prevent moisture loss in the products, and makes the pallet less susceptible to theft. However, plastic film significantly hinders airflow. Plastic netting is often used as a substitution to stretch film for stabilizing pallet loads, especially those that need forced-air cooling. Used plastic netting and stretch film can prove difficult to go through and recycle.
Applying a dab of special adhesive to the top of each item is a low-cost and almost totally automated way of pallet stability.
Glue is used to keep the boxes from shifting around when they are stacked. The low tensile strength of this adhesive allows cartons to be detached and rearranged with ease, but the strong shear strength prevents them from sliding. Neither recycling nor waste management are an issue with the adhesive.
Storing Bins for Pallets. Produce is often transported from the field with orchard towards the packing plant using large wooden pallet containers made of milled oak or plywood. Capacity may vary from 12+ bushels to 50+ bushels, depending on the use case. A conventional pallet’s length and breadth are 48 inches x 40 inches, however the height might vary. Some vegetable businesses are switching to using increase-wide pallet bins (48 feet by 80 inches) because they are more efficient.
Since most pallets bins are produced domestically, it is crucial that they maintain dimensional uniformity from batch to batch. Problems might arise, for instance, when hundreds of Pallet bins with slightly different overall dimensions are stacked together for purposes such as climate control, ventilation, or storage. Additionally, proper reinforcement of stress areas is crucial.
A hardwood pallet bin may last for around five years if kept in the open air. Pallet bins have a potential lifespan of 10 years or more when stored in a climate-controlled environment.
Additionally, the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in St. Joseph, Michigan publishes standards for agricultural pallet bins (ASAE S337.1), and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association in Washington, DC oversees uniform voluntary standards for wood pallets and other wood containers.
Boxes Secured with Wire. Wooden wire-bound boxes are still widely used for snap beans, sweet corn, and other commodities that need hydrocooling, despite the availability of alternate packaging options. Wire-bound boxes are waterproof, strong, and robust. They stack well and can withstand a lot of weight.
Wire-bound boxes are available in a wide range of volumes, from half bushels to pallet bins, and provide generous ventilation and cooling openings. Wire-bound containers may be returned to the packer flat after use, however this is seldom done. Used containers might be a considerable disposal challenge in certain regions. The inability to easily attach appropriate labels makes wirebound crates unsuitable for consumer packaging in most cases.
Lugs and Wooden Crates. Once often used for transporting apples, stone fruit, and potatoes, wooden boxes have been almost entirely phased out in favor of newer packaging options. The container’s high price, heightened attention to tare weight, and technological advancements in material handling have limited its usage to high-priced exotic fruits and other niche commodities. There are less expensive alternatives to the 15-, 20-, and 25-pound wooden lugs that are still used for bunch grapes and other speciality crops.
Various Wicker and Wooden Containers. Once upon a time, farmers would harvest everything from strawberries to sweet potatoes in wire-reinforced wood veneer baskets and hampers of varying sizes. They can withstand a lot of abuse and can be nested for easy travel when they’re not in use. However, their usage has been severely restricted to largely local farmer markets, where they may be reused several times due to their high price, disposal issues, and inefficiency in palletization.
Fiberboard with Waves
There is a wide variety of patterns and weights available for corrugated fiberboard, often known as cardboard or pasteboard. It is the standard for produce containers because to its cheap price and high adaptability, and this trend is likely to continue in the near future. Corrugated fiberboard has increased in both strength and utility in recent years.
Three or more layers of kraft paperboard are used in the production of most corrugated fiberboard. The thickness of the paper must be more than 0.008 inches for it to be classified as paperboard. Weight (in pounds per 1,000 square feet) and thickness (in millimeters) are used to classify the various types of paperboard. Brown in color and very durable, Kraft paper is created from unbleached pulp. To improve its wet strength and printability, Kraft paper may also include synthetic fibers for reinforcement, sizing (starch), and other compounds.
The majority of fiberboard is made from recycled materials. The future proportion of recycled materials is projected to rise, and minimum levels may be imposed by legislation. Compared to virgin fiber containers, completely recycled pulp cartons have only around 75% of the stacking strength. Containers made from recycled fibers will have to have sturdier walls to prevent the fibers from escaping.
The standard material for food packaging is double-sided corrugated fiberboard. To make it, corrugated paperboard is placed between two liners (facings) of paper-board. There is usually no difference between the inner and outer liners, although sometimes the outer layer is preprinted or coated so that it accepts printing easier. A moisture-resistant coating might be applied to the inner layer. Corrugated bulk bins and other heavy-duty shipping containers may have double or even triple walls for extra strength when stacked. Manufacturers of corrugated fiberboard print box certifications on the containers’ undersides to attest to the materials’ claimed strength and any applicable restrictions. Two distinct certifications exist. The first guarantees a certain amount of bursting strength for the corrugated fiberboard used and a certain total weight for the inner and outer facings. Maximum edge crush test (ETC) certification is provided in the second. Unlike bursting strength, edge crush strength is a reliable indicator of stacking durability. To evaluate the relative stackability of different containers, consumers of corrugated fiberboard need require ECT certification. The maximum length, breadth, and height of the container and the maximum gross weight of the contents are specified in both certifications.
Fiberboard containers are weaker when exposed to either cold or excessive humidity. The strength of a container may be reduced by as much as 75% if it is not treated to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air and its contents. There are now wax and plastic coverings designed to resist moisture, which greatly lessen its impact.