Reusable packaging has the upper hand in limiting damage to product and packaging in the supply chain, according to new research .

However, the study, initiated by the  Foundation for Reusable Systems, noted little difference between disposable and reusable packaging in preserving food safety and freshness and quality.

Researchers at the foundation published a study exploring whether disposable or reusable packaging influences spoilage of fruit and vegetables.

The study sought to measure damage to packaging throughout the supply chain, and measure the quality and loss of freshness of fruits and vegetables due to the type of packaging.

On the first point, the study found a significant lower rate of damage for reusable packaging.

The main causes of packaging damage with reusable packaging were linked to inadequate securing of loading units and improper handling,

German study looks at spoilage by packaging typeThe study blamed damage to disposable packages (cardboard) to lack of strength, inconsistent sizes and a lack of compatibility with other packaging. Researchers said damage rates increase for both disposable and reusable packing at the retail distribution level by about fourfold.

At the central warehouse, the study found that the percentage of fruits and vegetables completely undamaged in the handling process was 60% for cardboard boxes and 78% for reusable packaging. Partially damaged product was rated at 40% for produce in cardboard boxes and 22% for fruits and vegetables reusable packages.

The second part of the study evaluated bacteria count of both disposable and reusable packaging and researchers found little difference between the categories, according to the research summary.

“With one exception, no significant differences between the surface bacterial counts for disposable and reusable packaging could be found, both before the filling process and at the end of the storage period,” according to the summary.

The effect of packaging on produce quality appeared comparable for both disposable and reusable packaging, though the researchers said more study may be required for conclusions about transporting produce over greater distances.