What’s Fresh in Fresh-Cut Produce Packaging?
By Aaron L. Brody, PH.D.
Bursting into a leadership slot in the United States’ $80 billion fresh produce industry is the $12+ billion packaged pre-cut fruits and vegetables and nearly ready-to-eat salad sector. “Fresh-cut” produce delivers convenience plus a relatively easy way for consumers to increase their consumption of “healthy” fruits and vegetables.
Fresh-cut produce product sales have grown from near zero in 1985 to $5 billion at retail in 2004, plus an additional $7.5 billion in foodservice.
Packaging for fresh–cut produce
Fresh-cut produce is generally processed and packaged in refrigerated conditions under modified atmosphere—altered levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor—to prolong quality retention and extend shelf life by factors of two to 10, depending on the produce and the controls instituted.
While most package materials are typically engineered to inhibit gas exchange, fresh-cut produce prefers a “gate” that swings in to permit the entry limited amounts of oxygen-containing air and swings out to provide the escape of excess carbon dioxide. Package structures that control this gas transmission rate make a significant difference in fresh-cut produce shelf-life, flavor and product quality.
Convenience is key
Much development has been focused on peelable lidstocks for semi-rigid plastic trays, as more salads move into trays and the cut-fruit category trends towards open top trays, tubs and other semi-rigid containers.
Semi-rigid plastic packaging has been a desired packaging form for cut vegetables and has also become the standard for cut fruit. Although the costs of semi-rigid plastic trays and packs are higher than for most pouches, semi-rigid packages may offer a better platform for graphics and brand identity.
Oddly absent from the fresh-cut produce category, which otherwise is today’s fastest growing concept in flexible packaging, is the standup pouch. Improvements in laminations, film substrates and printing make the standup pouch an attractive glossy package with eye-catching graphics. In other categories, laser scores are being added to standup pouches to offer easier-opening convenience.
One of packaging’s original “active” concepts is Fresh Hold, a label with micro-pores that establish pockets of air that facilitate the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the film. In application, Fresh Hold is typically produced as a label that fits over an opening in the package.
Another solution is Landec’s Intelimer technology. This proprietary polymer system senses changes in temperature and/or internal gas atmospheres and selectively alters the rate of either carbon dioxide release or oxygen entry. Generally an Intelimer polymer membrane is placed over a hole punched in a plastic film to reduce the cost of the active package component.
Among the advanced systems for purge and moisture absorption are Paper-Pak Industries’ and Maxwell Chase’s Fresh-R-Pax technologies, which can be incorporated into absorbent pads, pouches, and trays. The concept is to absorb excess moisture from fruits and vegetables and thus eliminate contact between spoilage organisms and the food—as well as the consumer. BP
The author, Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D., is President/CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., a consultancy in food, packaging technology and marketing. Contact Dr. Brody at 770.613.0991 or email@example.com