Fresh Produce Packaging

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Fresh produce aisle in Russian supermarket

For a long time now paper and paperboard have been the preferred packaging materials for fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not talking about the portion packages, which are mainly plastic punnets, but the supply chain packaging used for presenting fruits and vegetables in a free-choice environment of a retail market.
We all know the corrugated paperboard “crates”, based upon the design of the traditional wooden crates. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about take a look at the slide show here below.

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And although wood as packaging material for fruit crates has more and more been replaced by corrugated paperboard, mainly because corrugated paperboard crates can be formed and erected in a (semi)-automatic process on the packaging site, while the production of wooden crates often is outsourced with all the inherent problems that arises with it.

In spite of the impression we all have that corrugated paperboard dominates the supply chain of fresh produce, the importance of the benefits of wood as packaging material in relation to the “well-being” of fresh fruit in the supply chain can’t be neglected.

Two recent research studies in France and Spain demonstrate the superior antimicrobial properties of wood species such as pine and poplar, when compared to smooth synthetic materials, including plastics.

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At the 66th FEFPEB Congress in Cork (Ireland) a presentation was given on the conclusions of an extensive three-year research initiative by the “EMABOIS” consortium, composed of 27 research projects and directed by Aviat and Federighi, that have led to several doctoral dissertations and scientific articles on wood. Their conclusions are in line with microbiological comparative work on fish packaging by Rodríguez Jerez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona that were presented in Athens (Greece) at the 29th Congress of the European Federation of Science and Food Technology (EFFoST) on new scientific studies on wood and food safety.

EMABois, composed of various French research authorities, including Actalia, ESB, ESI Reims, FCBA and ONIRIS, carried out thousands of tests and validated methods and protocols for the microbiological and chemical analysis of wood. The results confirmed the microbiological and chemical safety of wooden surfaces in contact with fresh products such as fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy products.

As other recent studies have shown, there is a higher antimicrobial effect on wood by physical inhibition on species of wood, including spruce, pine and poplar. It concluded that its porosity is an advantage in this regard against other materials in contact with food and considered as “smooth”, such as plastic.

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The conclusion reinforced the findings of Rodríguez Jerez’s comparative assessment of microbiological behaviour of containers for fresh fish in the market. In fact, the surface microbiology assessment expert states that, thanks to antimicrobial properties, containers made from wood develop less contamination after contact with fish, and do not affect the quality or safety of the fish – provided that they only come into contact once.

With regard to the migration of natural wood molecules, the EMABois consortium concluded that particularly natural, volatile, organic compounds are involved, but their transfer to food is limited, meaning they are safe for the consumer.

In spite of the disadvantages of corrugated paperboard crates, which often absorb the humidity from fruit and vegetables with as result losing its resistance and sturdiness and the fact that plastic crates discredit the quality of the fruit and vegetables, the problem of forming and erecting a wooden fresh produce crate is for many a supplier of fresh produce an unacceptable barrier.

The Greek company Foren Engineering in Thessaloniki, Greece came up with a possible solution: the innovative foldable wooden crate ForenBox and two new machines the PW01 and the FB01 for the production of this crate.

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ForenBox
The company claims that it tried to create something that combines quality and stability, but which could also be competitive with the price of other crates.

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The production of the crates is divided between the crate manufacturer (wood supplier) and the fresh produce packing house. The crate manufacturer runs the first machine (PW01), which cuts the plywood at the place of the crate producer, while the second (FB01) machine prepares the corners and assembles the crate inside the fruit packaging houses, reducing the transport costs of the material up to 90%.

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The advantages of the ForenBox are, that there is no glue nor are there metallic stitches. The end result has excellent and secure stackability, perfect conservation for soft fruits, 90% less space for warehouses and its available in very small dimensions such as 150x105mm

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The aforementioned PW-01 machine is an automatic press machine, cutting and engraving the ForenBox boards. It has an automatic feeder of the boards and an automatic stacking system, both with included quality control equipment.
Production up to 3000 boards/hr.

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The FB01 for the packing house is an automatic assembly machine of the ForenBox. It includes the automatic cutting and machining of the corners, the automatic feeder of the boards and the automatic stacking system of the finished crates. The machine also features quality control equipment.
Production up to 3000 boxes/hr.

With this alternative to paperboard fresh produce crates I end this article.

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