Researchers from Italy's University of Bologna have found that corrugated trays allow fruit to stay fresher and safer than reusable plastic crates (RPCs).
The research also found that corrugated trays can reduce contamination from pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms, thereby reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses and ensuring longer-shelf life.
University of Bologna's department of agricultural and food sciences professor Rosalba Lanciotti led the research, which focused on the exchange of microbes between produce and packaging and how different packaging materials can influence cross contamination.
European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO) market and environment director Jan Gramsma said: "When it comes to preventing microbiological contamination, the science is in no doubt: corrugated board is far superior to RPC.
"Both the European Food Safety Agency and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say fresh produce can be a source of contamination leading to foodborne Illnesses."
During the study, the researchers packed peaches in deliberately contaminated packaging, featuring both corrugated trays and RPCs, with the same number of Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Pseudomonas spp.
The rate of microorganisms transfer to packaged fruit was then measured.
The results of the study showed significant variation in the microbiological quality between produce packed in RPCs and corrugated trays.
The fruits in plastic crates reached contamination levels 48 to 72 hours earlier than those in corrugated trays.
The tests also revealed that in some conditions, such as high storage temperatures, up to 95% of the peaches packed in RPCs were contaminated with E. coli after 48 hours when packaged in deliberately contaminated plastic crates.
Under the same conditions, E. coli contamination levels did not pass 25% for the peaches packed in corrugated trays.
Gramsma added: "Until now, we did not have undeniable proof that packaging was a factor. Our message to retailers is simple and clear: corrugated keeps produce fresh and safe."
Image: An empty corrugated box. Photo: courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos