Apr 26, 2021
Alternative solutions for single-use packaging in postharvest packing

Produce Safety and safe practices are not only essential to keeping our produce safe from microbial contamination they can also help you the grower make decisions that affect the environment. Through safe practices we can reduce farm waste, energy use, and shape the way produce is packaged and delivered to the marketplace.

The FSMA Produce Safety Rule recommends using single-use containers to reduce the likelihood of contamination of produce destined for the fresh market. This reliance on items used only once, then disposed of, is good practice for reducing contamination of harmful microbes but this also creates an issue when considering the affects single use items, especially single-use plastic, has on the environment.

Single-use plastic is just that, plastic created to be used once then thrown away or recycled. These materials are often made from non-renewable fossil fuel-based materials and while most are able to be recycled, they often are not and end up in our landfills or environment. Here are some alternatives growers can use to comply with the FSMA PS Rule and reduce the environmental impact of your farm.

If possible, when using single use items, invest in materials that can be composted, recycled, or will naturally break down under the right conditions. Molded pulp containers and cardboard boxes are good alternatives for growers, and both can be easily recycled by most municipal recycling programs. When choosing containers made from cardboard look for non-waxed materials as the wax is usually made from polyethylene (sourced from plastic) which makes composting and recycling difficult. While cardboard and molded pulp containers should only be used once, liners are acceptable for use in fibrous packing materials. Remember though, never harvest or pack into any container that is dirty or stained.

For farms with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, use single-use containers made from unwaxed cardboard material, or if possible, invest in reusable boxes for your customers. By using a deposit and weekly return program, CSA customers could put a deposit on renewable containers they pick up and then exchange their “used” container at the farm when they return for their next CSA pick up. For market growers, encourage your customers to bring their own packaging. This could be storage materials from home as well as their own reusable bags instead of relying on plastic bags and other single-use materials supplied by you, the grower.

As with any material used on your farm, whether it be for a distribution center, your CSA or at the market, make sure any container you choose is free of visible filth, cleaned and sanitized on a regular schedule and always inspected before use. For more information on sustainability and the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, contact MSUE Agrifood Safety or your local Conservation District.

Michah Hutchison, Michigan State University

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