Corrugated packaging provides real contributions to addressing some of the most pressing produce concerns facing growers today — food safety, product protection and longevity, speed of product to shelf and meeting customer needs — which is why WestRock, based in Norcross, GA, is helping produce companies find winning solutions for their goods.
“Choosing the right packaging solutions is paramount to finding success in all these areas of concern, not only for yourself but for your grocery partners,” said Dwight Morris, vice-president of strategic growth at WestRock. “Food safety is one of the most critical issues facing the produce industry today. Packaging cleanliness plays a critical role in keeping products and consumers safe.”
Recent third-party testing and analysis conducted by the University of California-Davis and toxicology experts Haley & Aldrich confirmed that 100 percent of tested corrugated met acceptable sanitation levels. Additionally, the experts examined 720 swab samples taken from containers produced by six different corrugated manufacturers at grower/shipper locations in three different U.S. regions and all were below 1,000 CFU per swab.
Food Safety News confirmed what proponents of single-use corrugated containers have known for years; the corrugated production process uses temperatures high enough to kill germs.Morris noted that a February 2016 study reported by
“High temperatures ensure that the boxes themselves do not introduce pathogens into the food supply chain,” he said. “And because corrugated containers are engineered for single use for a specific product, there’s nothing to wash. The corrugated box is recycled.”
Other research performed by Haley & Aldrich Inc., and sponsored by the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, has shown high levels of pathogens on reusable containers. Tests on a unit of Reusable Plastic Containers on a pallet showed microbial levels ranging from zero to 10 million organisms. Maryann Sanders, senior regulatory specialist and microbiologist at Haley & Aldrich, said she suspects the wildly different levels reflect improper sanitizing between uses.
Yet, despite this clear issue, some retailers insist fresh produce growers use RPCs, according to Dr. Trevor Suslow, an extension specialist and food-safety researcher at the University of California-Davis who consulted on several studies, including the CPA study. Dr. Suslow said the basic concept of multiple-use containers sets them up for contamination. This is especially true if they are used for commodities that are packed in the field.
Other studies conducted by Dr. Keith Warriner at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and Dr. Steven Ricke at the University of Arkansas Center for Food Safety, plus the study by Dr. Suslow all came to the same general conclusion —RPCs are difficult to clean and can harbor bacteria.
Paper, from which corrugated materials are made, is the original “green” packaging. WestRock’s paper-based packaging helps customers move from the linear model of “take, make, waste” to a more circular model focused on recycling,” Morris said. “We work collaboratively with our customers and other stakeholders throughout our packaging supply chain. We are constantly exploring ways to rethink our products by applying market insights, technology and sustainable design principles.”
WestRock’s products are made with virgin wood fiber, a renewable resource from responsibly managed forests. But WestRock’s commitment to sustainable forestry is only the beginning. With one of the industry’s largest recycling networks, WestRock also reuses fiber-based packaging to manufacture a variety of new paperboard and 100 percent recycled products from fiber mixes tailored to customers’ specific needs.
“WestRock is unique in the industry in that we have a machine division developing equipment with the ability to automatically form the types of boxes customers need,” Morris said. “Our innovative mandrel-formed box designs provide increased stacking strength with less fiber and reduce waste and transportation costs.”
The right corrugated packaging and strong branding opportunities allow for control over the customer experience. It’s not only a chance to “wow” consumers, but also an opportunity to promote brands in exciting and cost-effective ways.