“Tis the season for giving, consuming, and presenting! Whether you’re wrapping gifts for loved ones, displaying an intricate charcuterie board, or putting together a produce goodie-basket, some people are mindful of environmental sustainability during the holiday season. But a lot of produce growers practice this mindset all year long! An example of this is re-using produce packaging. While that is one way to foster sustainability on-farm, it may not facilitate good produce safety practices.
The Produce Safety Rule states that food packaging must be “adequate for its intended use,” meaning that it is:
1. Cleanable or designed for single use, and
2. is unlikely to support the growth or transfer of bacteria.
3. If reusing packaging material, you must take steps to ensure containers are cleaned or use a clean liner (§112.116).
One product I commonly see on-farm is the pulp fiber cartons, pictured right. These pint cartons are handy to have as they can display and hold a variety of commodities, and they are often able to be composted. However, these cartons are hard to clean! If you reuse this type of packaging material, think about creative ways you can use a single-use liner. This liner could be plastic or wax paper, which is more environmentally friendly as it is biodegradable. Or you could use single-use plastic bags that you can hand directly to the customer, with no need to transfer the produce at the time of sale!
Another common practice I see, especially at farmers markets, is wicker baskets. While these baskets may make your booth look quaint and cottage-core (if you don’t know what that is, read about cottage-core here!), they are also hard to clean and sanitize due to the porous nature of wicker/wood products. An innovative idea I’ve seen from some growers is to use a cloth liner (still cottage core!) that is washed in between every use. Having a whole stack of cloth that you wash at the end of the market week could be useful if you attend multiple markets! This example protects from contamination or transfer of bacteria from the basket to the produce and fits the single-use and cleanable requirements.
A little mantra I commonly refer to when balancing sustainability and produce safety values is “reusable and cleanable!” Reusable, plastic pint containers may increase plastic usage on-farm, but they reduce the need of single-use liners as they are non-porous and more cleanable than the pulp pint cartons (pictured left). If you are investing in some new packaging materials for your point-of-sales, think about a) recyclable plastic, compostable cardboard single-use or b) cleanable, reusable liner and container options. While sustainability is a factor, it is also important to consider food safety risks you may or may not be posing to consumers by using unsanitary packaging.
Written by Morgan Anderson, Produce Safety Technician