In light of the recent contaminated strawberry saga that made its way from Australia to New Zealand, and led to not only major supermarkets pulling all Australian strawberries shelves but also led to a nationwide enquiry into New Zealand’s traceability of fresh produce. Now questions have begun to arise as to how supermarkets, growers and those in the packaging industry ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Tamper-proofing is one option which helps to provide a level of safety or at least can alert consumers to any fool play, but with supermarkets making more and more moves towards being plastic-free, how will this affect packaging manufacturers ability to tamper-proof produce?

The saga has already sparked conversations in Australia which has seen strawberry sales plummet and growers forced to dump millions of strawberries and raised questions regarding the country’s food safety measures. Food Safety experts have called for the food sector to consider integrating metal detectors and x-ray machines into daily procedures in addition to exploring more tamper-proofing options for fresh produce.

The tampering of supermarket items is obviously a growing concern for most consumers. According to SBWire, the Metal Caps and Closures Market is forecast to expand at a CAGR of 3.9 percent between the years of 2018 to 2026.

“Tamper-proof packaging is becoming far more important to brands than ever before and suggest that companies really need to do their research before eliminating packaging from their business. This would make them open to contamination, like the recent strawberry saga in Australia. Also, the shelf life that is gained from using fit for purpose clear packaging that customers can view the food they are buying can be recyclable and is already recycled in New Zealand,” said Dene Wilson, General Manager Custom-Pak.

Noticing the change in the eco-conscious consumer has led to the packaging industry already beginning to produce recyclable plastic packaging that is not only tamper-proof but good for the environment. “Flight is now producing New Zealand Recycled PET. Retailers who wish to utilise closed plastic clamshells (with tamper proof features if required) can now do so while remaining sustainable, responsible and environmentally friendly,” said Keith Smith, CEO of Flight.

Increasing the packaging of fresh produce would lead to more plastic being used, but packaging is designed to protect consumers and alert them to foul play. It is a balancing act, manufacturers need packaging to protect and extend the shelf-life of their produce, but need to explore plastic-free alternatives to keep up with growing trends.

“The reason we have packaging is to protect and preserve products. That’s its primary role. I’m constantly talking to brands that use soft plastic packaging to wrap their products about how to improve the recyclability of the packaging. Using multiple materials or several plastic layers makes it more difficult to recycle, but brands have to make sure their fresh and frozen foods are sealed and have a shelf. It’s a matter of making sensible, informed decisions about where packaging can be removed altogether or replaced with another material,” said Lyn Mayes, Manager Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme.

Technology may be able to help future-proof products and protect consumers. Intelligent packaging is beginning to appear in the industry. Smart packaging has the ability to measure the gas and moisture inside the packaging. The technology can respond to the changes in the environment both inside and outside of the packet. Using a smartphone, the intelligent packaging communicates the history as well as the products current condition inside the packet to the customer. This technology can alert manufactures or customers to any changes, and if possible tampering has taken place.

As New Zealand’s pan-produce organisation, United Fresh reviews the country’s traceability procedures, and overseas the sales of plastic packaged fresh produce begin to drop, the question of whether or not to package fresh produce will continue to be a discussion within the industry.