IFCO Systems US, Tampa, Fla., released the results of a study on the impact of IFCO reusable plastic containers (RPCs) on the shelf life of fresh produce.

The study, commissioned by IFCO and conducted by Dr. Lippert Quality Management, Germany, reveals that IFCO RPCs extend the freshness and visual appeal of fresh fruits and vegetables for up to four days compared to single-use packaging.

The Dr. Lippert scientists set up simulated supply chain conditions, including chilled and ambient temperatures to replicate typical transport, shop and domestic conditions. Then, they ran the trials for up to 19 days, depending on the product type, and tested against a comprehensive list of criteria, depending of commodity, including weight loss, stem health, sugar and acidity, temperature/humidity, firmness, infection, rot/mold, color, spoilage and appearance.

The testers concluded that packaging plays a major role in shelf life for fruit and vegetables. Unlike single-use packaging, IFCO RPCs enable faster and more effective air circulation and heat dissipation around the produce. In addition, they can be stacked with no adverse effects on the produce.

•Musk melons (cantaloupes)—the shelf life of melons packed in IFCO RPCs was four days longer than those packed in single-use packaging. Mold started to appear after four days in single-use packaging and not until nine days later for the IFCO-packed melons. On Day 13, 100% of the IFCO-packed melons were still saleable compared to 70% of those packed in single-use boxes.

•Tomatoes—the vine condition of tomatoes packed in RPCs was significantly better after 7 days than those in single-use packaging, where vines had already started to deteriorate. The tomatoes were still saleable after 12 days in single-use packs compared to 15 days in IFCO RPCs, giving retailers two extra full days of shelf life.

•Mushrooms—100% of the RPC-packed mushrooms were still saleable after 4 days compared to just 60% of those in single-use packaging, providing two extra days of shelf life. Bacterial spots had already started to appear after two days on those in single-use packs, while the RPC-packed mushrooms showed no spots at all on Day 12 of the test.

•Grapes—by Day 6 of the test using cooler, store-like conditions, 91% of the RPC-packed grapes were still saleable compared to just 55% of those packed in single-use boxes, providing extra shelf life of one day. When shipped, packed and displayed at room temperature, the results were even more conclusive, with just 10% of the fruit in single-use packaging still saleable after 9 days compared to 80% for those packed in IFCO RPCs.

“The main difference to single-use packaging is that ventilation in IFCO RPCs provides superior air circulation,” says Philipp Loer, crop scientist at Dr. Lippert QM, who conducted the trials. “A positive effect was visible on the quality of the products, resulting in shelf life up to four days longer.”

“The study conducted with Dr. Lippert QM is part of our ongoing research and development program, which aims to test and perfect our RPCs to deliver the best possible value to growers, retailers and consumers,” adds Wolfgang Orgeldinger, chief executive officer of IFCO. “A longer shelf life of up to four days represents significant bottom line benefits for retailers, while boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty.”