We all know eating our fruits and vegetables can keep us healthy. But what if that same produce makes us sick? One in six Americans contracts a foodborne illness each year, and contaminated fresh produce is the leading cause, ahead of seafood, chicken, beef, and pork. Several university studies have shown reusable plastic containers (RPCs) used to ship produce are a potential contamination source.
The Fibre Box Association (FBA), a non-profit trade association representing North American manufacturers of corrugated cardboard packaging, thought single-use corrugated cardboard containers posed a safer option, but needed more science—and dialog with key stakeholders such as grocers. FBA turned to Haley & Aldrich’s microbiologist and toxicology expert Maryann Sanders, who had helped establish, analyze and interpret research on the prevalence and challenges of persistent microbial contamination on RPCs even after cleaning.
Maryann not only managed FBA’s food safety research program, but she also served as the technical expert who met with grocers, presented at association meetings, and provided expert media commentary to present the business case for corrugated cardboard produce boxes. Maryann worked hand in hand with FBA to broaden the conversation to include information on the sustainability impact and the human health risks associated with the repeated uses of RPCs.
With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), growers, shippers, and grocers are feeling the impact of the due diligence required to mitigate the health risk potential, including those from contaminated storage and transport containers. Maryann, in working with FBA, has brought to light single-use corrugated cardboard produce boxes as a safe, clean, flexible, and sustainable alternative to RPCs. Additional specific characteristics include:
- Better protection of the produce in transit, as the corrugated cardboard cushions and protects
- Single-use approach offers clean container for each shipment; it also eliminates the use of biocides and water necessary to clean and sanitize RPCs between uses
- Cardboard is sustainable—made from a renewable source and uses less fossil fuels for its production; has a 93% “recovery rate” for recycling; and its lightweight design makes for lighter transport loads, which translates to fewer trucks for transport, less fuel, and fewer CO2 emissions
- Grocery store chain that previously refused produce in corrugated boxes now accepts it
- Walmart Canada now permits both corrugated and RPC produce packaging
- Broadened the conversation with customers to include not just research regarding container contamination, but also sustainability, comparing energy and supply chain costs associated with the choice of packaging
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