The pineapple's rugged exterior, with its prickly surface and crown of sharp leaves, suggests natural toughness. However, this tropical fruit demands meticulous care, particularly during its journey from Costa Rican farms to US supermarket produce aisles. Once harvested, pineapples must be transported and stored in temperature-controlled environments to slow ripening, prevent rot, and deter pests. This careful handling isn't unique to pineapples; bananas and avocados from South America, oranges from Pakistan, mangoes from Thailand, and tuna from Japan all require specialized care. Alongside temperature-controlled containers and warehouses, effective packaging is crucial for the safe and efficient transport and storage of these perishable goods.

Logistics packaging for perishable cargo

Unlike marketing-oriented packaging designed to attract consumers, logistical packaging aims to prevent damage and optimize space during transit and storage. This involves using containers, pallets, crates, and tracking systems to ensure smooth movement to the end consumer. For perishable items, packaging must also preserve freshness, delay maturation, and protect against external threats like rot, insects, and mould.

While the critical role of packaging in logistics operations is gaining more and more attention, let's now delve into the importance of logistics packaging for perishable goods and explore the latest technologies enhancing this process.

How can packaging and logistics improve perishable goods supply chain operations?

“Food safety hazards know no borders. In our interconnected, global food supply, risks from unsafe food can quickly escalate from local issues to international emergencies. Food safety is an essential part of food security,” explained Dr Francesco Branca, Director, WHO Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, during his speech to mark World Food Safety Day in June.

Logistical packaging is a vital component of fulfilment logistics, streamlining supply chain operations by minimizing storage issues, reducing transport costs, mitigating product damage risks, and saving time during loading and unloading. For perishable goods, these benefits are even more nuanced as they are responsible for the safety of food produce and the prevention of the spread of food-borne germs. Let’s explore the multifaceted role logistics packaging has in the perishable goods supply chain.

  • Temperature control and preservation

    Fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, and meat require specific temperature control during transport. For instance, pineapples can be stored at 7 to 12°C for 3-4 weeks, oranges at 0 to 8°C, and fish must remain frozen at -25 to -20°C. Refrigerated containers and insulated packaging, including thermal blankets, gel packs, and vacuum-insulated panels, help maintain optimal temperatures. Smart sensors can monitor and log temperature data in real time, allowing immediate action if thresholds are breached. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) technology can also be used to alter the atmosphere inside packaging, slowing perishables' respiration rate.

  • Enhanced protection and reduced damage

    Using antimicrobial packaging materials can reduce microbial growth, preventing mould and rot. Active packaging can emit substances like ethylene absorbers to delay ripening and prevent spoilage. Shock-absorbing materials such as bubble wrap, foam, and air cushions can protect delicate goods from bruising during transport.

  • Efficiency in handling and transportation

    Maximizing packaging efficiency involves using lighter materials like corrugated cardboard, biodegradable plastics, or innovative materials like mushroom-based packaging to reduce weight-related costs while providing adequate protection. These, however, need to be water-resistant to maintain optimal conditions for the produce. Stackable designs can also improve logistical efficiency and minimize damage risk. Collaboration with suppliers can help design modular packaging that minimizes wasted space, without putting the produce at risk.

  • Technology for inventory management

    Effective logistics packaging of perishable goods should facilitate better inventory management. Clear labelling and accurate details are crucial to identify inventory. Advanced tracking technologies, such as RFID tags, enhance supply chain visibility while automated labelling systems, integrated with warehouse management systems (WMS), ensure real-time updates and accuracy.

  • Transitioning to sustainable packaging

    Investing in a sustainable packaging system today can help navigate environmental regulations and avoid green taxes tomorrow. It also contributes to improving the brand’s public image and customer confidence. Customers today don’t only want to know that their produce is grown in healthy conditions, they want assurances that it is also transported to their doorsteps with the lowest possible carbon footprint. Investing in durable, reusable packaging materials will help reduce the need for single-use packaging and establish a return system for reusable packaging.

  • Cost-effective alternatives

    Right-sized packaging that fits product dimensions reduces material use and shipping costs. Modular designs using lighter materials can cater to different products. Effective inventory management and demand forecasting can help reduce overstock and food wastage.

  • Improved supply chain communication

    Smart packaging technologies, including IoT (Internet of Things) integration and data analytics, provide real-time updates on the location, temperature, and condition of perishable goods. These technologies facilitate better decision-making and optimize supply chain operations.

  • Compliance and safety

    Ensuring packaging meets industry standards and regulations (e.g., FDA, EU) avoids legal issues and ensures consumer safety. Implementing packaging that supports Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocols ensures food safety. By outsourcing logistics and packaging to a 3PL provider, businesses can benefit from economies of scale and expertise in regional and global regulations.

A yummy crate full of fresh Virginia peaches!

Fruit packaging and logistics

In order for logistics packaging to be used optimally for the transport and storage of perishable goods, businesses and logistics providers need to work hand in hand to implement innovative solutions through a comprehensive approach that may involve initial investments in new materials, technologies, or processes but can lead to significant long-term cost savings and operational efficiencies.

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