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Packaging 101 – Materials, Methods, Types, and More


Effective packaging of produce is critical to protecting product quality during transport and in store aisles. The type of packaging selected depends on the product type and what will work best to enclose the product and provide the best means of handling. Packaging must be designed to effectively withstand various conditions in the supply chain: rough handling during loading and unloading, compression from weight that may bear down from other containers (if double-stacked), impact and shifting during transportation, and the high humidity that can occur during pre-cooling, transit and storage.

Having a good understanding of all areas of packaging is key in selecting the appropriate kind for the product being shipped and for effective handling during transit. The Red Book Credit Services is a great resource for educating stakeholders on this topic. Below, a review of the key areas of packaging:


  • Fiberboard – this is the most prevalent material used in the produce industry. It can come in the form of bins, boxes, lugs, tray, flats, dividers, partitions, or slipsheets. A majority of fiberboard boxes are designed to be stacked top to bottom, and a minimum of 275 pounds per square inch bursting test strength is recommended for boxes that are intended for export.
  • Wood – used for bins, crates, baskets, trays, lugs, and pallets.
  • Paper – used for sleeves, wraps, liners, pads, excelsior and labels.
  • Plastic – used for bins, boxes, trays, bags, containers, sleeves, wraps, liners, dividers and slipsheets.
  • Foam – used for boxes, trays, lugs, sleeves, liners, dividers and pads.


  • Field Packing – products are placed in their shipping materials during the harvesting process. The filled containers are then taken to a precooling facility where field heat is removed. Field packing is a common practice for strawberries as this method ensures optimal freshness.
  • Shed Packing – products are processed and packed indoors at a central location. Produce is brought in from the field to the packing shed in field crates, bins or trucks. Products are precooled at the shed.
  • Repacking – products are taken out of one container, regraded and placed in another. This might often occur at store or distribution warehouse level, when smaller containers are required for consumers.


  • Volume fill – products are placed into the container until the desired capacity, weight, or count is reached. Common for oranges and avocados.
  • Tray/Cell Pack – products are placed into molded trays; this provides separation and can work to reduce bruising.
  • Place Pack – products are wrapped and carefully placed into containers; often used to reduce bruising and gives a nice look.
  • Film/Shrink Wrap – each piece of produce are individually wrapped and sealed in film to reduce moisture and prevent loss and decay. The film is often treated with a chemical solution that will aid in preservation.
  • Modified Atmosphere – products are placed in individual consumer packs or containers and sealed with plastic film or bags. This reduces product respiration and slows the ripening process. Tectrol is a well-known brand of modified atmosphere package that is used for berries.

Other Considerations

  • Standardization – helps to reduce container inventory for both manufacturers and grower/shippers. The standard dictates that at least 90% of the surface of the standard pallet (48x40inches) must be used, with no overhang and minimal underhang. This provides unitized loads and more stable mixed pallets loads, and works to reduce transportation and marketing costs.
  • Unitization – many shippers and receivers have moved away from handling individual shipping containers to handling unit loads on pallets. Most distribution centers are now set up to store palletized loads up to three tier racks.
  • Pallets – pallets have many requirements in order to be suitable to ship produce. Wooden pallets must be strong enough to allow storage under load in three tier racks, must have adequate number of top deck boards to support the boxes they carry, and must be heat treated to remove any traces of insects or other items that may contaminate the produce.
  • Slipsheets – containers placed on slipsheets must be cross stacked, film wrapped or unitized in some way with corner boards and strapping. The use of slipsheets in trailer reefer units with shallow floor channels is not recommended, as this will inhibit the circulation of air under the load.
  • Labeling – labeling of packing intended for consumers is mandatory. There are strict guidelines for country of origin and branding that must be followed by all shippers.

Packaging manufactures and shipper/growers are like matchmakers in the produce industry: they find the right container for the specific fruit or vegetable, based on the characteristics, tendencies, and behaviors of that particular product. A job that takes a lot of hard work. The more that everyone in the supply chain (shippers, drivers, receivers, to name a few)  understands the particulars of the match, the more produce will successfully hit the shelves and reach consumers.

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