Packaging has role to play in under strain food supply chains

As agricultural products are having to be thrown away, packaging that sustains product life could be important

Stepac's packaging (PRNewsfoto/StePac)

Fresh food supply chains are under strain, with reports of dumped agricultural good in both the US and Europe, so packaging that can enhance shelf and storage lives may have a major role to play.

While governments are coordinating necessary measures to ensure the continuous movement of fresh produce between countries and continents, border restrictions and workforce shortages have induced considerable delays in cargo flows, rendering perishables particularly vulnerable to spoilage and waste.

The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) called on the European Commission on 20 March to recognise packaging as an essential component in maintaining the uninterrupted flow of product groups that the Commission has identified as critical such as "health-related and perishable goods, notably foodstuffs.[1]"

StePac is one company hoping that its packaging can alleviate some of the strain through its advanced Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), which it says delays ripening and ageing processes, inhibits microbial decay and preserves the quality and nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables packed within. The packaging is extensively used for prolonged storage and long-haul shipments of a range of fruits and vegetables.

The implicit abilities to significantly extend shelf-life via StePac's modified atmosphere packaging has been instrumental in helping growers, packers and distributors extend seasonality, ship by sea instead of by air and reduce waste along the supply chain in order to supply fresh produce safely and in intact quality.

"We are continuously hearing reports of vessels not being unloaded on time, and containers left sitting for long periods at harbours," says Gary Ward, Ph.D., Business Development Manager for StePac. "Fresh produce exporters and importers are concerned that by the time their produce reaches the customer, the quality will have deteriorated considerably, impacting its value and increasing waste. Our unique packaging products can extend the shelf life of fresh produce by 50% to 100% offering a lifeline for all stakeholders in the fresh produce supply chain and help weather the logistical storms."

Another current major concern is the contamination risks that can arise from handling of foodstuffs. Customers are increasingly seeking packaged fresh produce that traditionally sit naked on the shelves.

"StePac's Xgo™ brand of retail packaging formats are hermetically sealed," explains Ward. "They not only preserve the quality of the produce and extend shelf life, but also act as a physical barrier that prevents contact of the produce by the human hand from the moment it is packed until it is opened by the consumer. Consequently, once packed - the risk of produce being contaminated during the supply chain is effectively eliminated. Such assurance is not guaranteed when fruits and vegetables are sold loose or housed in packaging with punch holes or perforations."

Perishable fruits and vegetables, characterised by a relatively short shelf life, gain an extended life span— a benefit that becomes only more vital in times of possible shortages and profligate stockpiling by the consumer.

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