For Food Safety, Think Inside the Box
September is Food Safety Month which makes this a great time to talk about the importance of clean and recyclable paper packaging. What’s the connection? Well, think about how the food you eat gets from the farm to your dinner table. Chances are, at some point, it came in a box. And there are a bunch of good reasons for that.
First off, paper is the ideal packing material. Back in the 19th century, corrugated cardboard was used to give rigidity to stovepipe hats like the ones Abraham Lincoln wore. Later it was used for making lightweight cartons that could withstand a railroad journey. By the 1920s, cardboard boxes had surpassed wooden crates as the shipping container of choice because it was strong, light, easy to handle and inexpensive to make. Today, nearly half of all corrugated boxes manufactured in the U.S. each year are used to transport food from farms and fields to stores and stands.
The second reason is that paper packaging keeps food fresh. How? Because during the process of shaping and bonding layers of paper into corrugated boxes, temperatures reach 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit -- high enough to kill most germs. That means ripening fruits and vegetables arrive on your plate plump and farm-fresh, despite being shipped across the country. Also, since corrugated boxes are designed to be recycled between uses, that virtually eliminates the risk of cross contamination. A study from the University of Bologna actually shows that corrugated boxes can help keep fruit fresher for longer periods than other containers.
The third reason is that paper packaging can be shaped into an infinite variety of efficient configurations. In the logistics business, most shipping containers “cube out” before they “weigh out.” That means, their shape prevents them from being stacked with maximum efficiency. But paper and cardboard can conform to almost any shape without losing tensile strength. And while we’re on the subject of sustainability, because corrugated is lighter than other shipping materials, it takes fewer trucks and less fossil fuel to move the same amount of food. When it gets to its destination, cardboard boxes can be broken down and recycled, saving space and reducing waste. You can even print bold graphics and brands right on the box so they become display cases in the grocery store reducing waste even more.
So next time you bite into an apple or pear, think about this . . . without paper packaging, your food would be more expensive to ship and less likely to be fresh on arrival. While we are fortunate enough to take fresh safe food for granted, this month at least, let’s remember the important role paper plays.