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Smart packaging enhances food safety and security

Smart packaging enhances food safety and security

StePac’s modified atmosphere packaging promotes fresh food safety and security during Coronavirus outbreak

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.

Amid food shortage fears, particularly for fresh produce and uncertainties unnerving the global community in the wake of the Corona virus pandemic, sustainable packaging specialist StePac demonstrates how its modified atmosphere packaging solutions can help alleviate many of the concerns related to food contamination and food security.

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.

StePac developed advanced Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) solutions which effectively 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.

The company’s unique polymer packaging formulation has also demonstrated capabilities for preserving nutritional value of fresh produce following prolonged storage. A 2018 independent study conducted by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey analyzed the post-harvest quality of Hicaznar pomegranate fruit packaged in StePac’s Xtend® branded MAP packaging and noted that this packaging better preserves the vitamin C content than the naked control during  six months of storage at 6°C.

In addition, nutritional analysis of shipments of fresh broccoli arriving to Japan revealed that the general nutritive value and vitamin C levels were better retained in Xtend iceless packaging than in standard iced packed broccoli. “Vitamin C is known to help strengthen the immune system and tackle infections, such as the common cold and flu. Consumers are seeking natural immune boosting sources in the hope of building better resistance to the COVID-19 virus,” adds Ward.

StePac’s MAP solutions are based on 25 years of accumulated research and expertise in biology, plant physiology, phytopathology, and post-harvest sciences.


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StePac: Taking broccoli packaging out of the ice age

Smart packaging enhances food safety and security

Xtend® bulk packaging brings food safety and environmental rewards for fresh broccoli and other vegetables

StePac L.A. Ltd.’s innovative MA/MH (Modified Atmosphere/Modified Humidity Packaging) technology is changing the paradigm of cold-chain supply and integrating sustainability into the long-haul transport of fresh broccoli and other vegetables traditionally shipped in ice. The technology effectively eliminates the need for ice and nonrecyclable wax cartons while enhancing food safety.

Functional packaging solves environmental challenges

Stakeholders along the supply channel are realizing the multiple benefits of Xtend® Iceless MA/MH bulk packaging for maintaining the freshness of broccoli in transit. Most notable is its positive environmental impact through driving substantial reductions in carbon emissions and food waste — two of the greatest ecological challenges facing the fresh produce industry. An added advantage is that of considerable cost savings in packaging (up to 40%) and transport expenses.

In certain countries, such as the US, broccoli and other produce items are typically packed in waxed cartons filled with ice to keep the produce cool and maintain freshness during storage and shipment. However, when the ice melts onto the produce it not only creates a mess but encourages growth of both plant and human pathogens. Waxed cartons also are non-recyclable. This generates untenable disposal problems for supermarkets, many of which are seeking greener alternatives in the wake of new laws imposed to tackle this problem.

Recycling, eliminating waste and carbon emissions

“Xtend Iceless offers a dry — and much leaner and greener — means of transporting fresh produce, wholly eliminating the need for ice,” says Gary Ward, Ph.D., Business Development Manager for StePac. “Moreover, it makes waxed cartons totally unnecessary. Xtend Iceless MA/MH packaging is fully recyclable and offers an affordable solution suitable for land or sea freight. The packaging is ‘climate positive’, generating a net savings in carbon emissions as a result of significantly extending the shelf life of fresh produce and reducing supply chain waste. It’s a ‘win-win’ for all.”

“An alarming 40% to 50% of food is lost post-harvest due largely to spoilage in transit,” adds Ward. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization, an astronomical 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide is wasted annually, a vast majority of which perishes before ever reaching the consumer.

Integration into Field Packing

One of the biggest challenges the company faced when developing the product was how to integrate modified atmosphere packaging into a field-packed process. Much of the broccoli in the US is field-packed in cartons, palletized, and then ice is added upon arrival at the packing house. Field-packing represents an obstacle for implementation of MA/MH technology. “We developed a solution that enables the broccoli to be field-packed in Xtend packaging and then forced air and/or vacuum cooled in the sealed packaging. This seamlessly integrates the packaging into the existing packing process,” explains Ward, noting that the system is patented in the US and Mexico.

Research demonstrates lower bacteria counts

Research has demonstrated the ability of Xtend Iceless packaging to significantly slow down the growth of microorganisms on broccoli, effectively abating produce deterioration and — more importantly — reducing the risk of foodborne illness associated with human pathogens such as E. coli.

In a study carried out at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, Xtend Iceless packaging was shown to be a superior alternative to ice for preserving all around quality, as well as for mitigating bacterial growth on produce during prolonged storage.

The shift to iceless packaging

The shift to iceless packaging is already gaining momentum among distributers of fresh produce globally. In the US, where broccoli is transported by land on trucks bearing weight constraints, road traffic accounts for 50% of air pollution. Transport of broccoli from Salinas, California, to New York City in Xtend Iceless packaging allows 33% more broccoli to be packed in the same container space, yet results in a 30% reduction in gross weight. This translates into 40% lower logistical costs as well as a reduction in carbon footprint.

Meet StePac at Asia Fruit Logistica 2019, booth #5-O36