On March 20, the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) called on the European Commission to recognize 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.