As a product that comes into direct contact with fresh produce and other food items, packaging has to meet government regulations.

The issue has taken on intensified importance in an era of tightened traceability standards, produce shippers and packaging manufacturers say.

Traceability issues are a top priority today, said Mike Kennedy, president of the Willoughby, Ohio-based Kennedy Group.

“The Kennedy Group helps address food safety concerns by helping people with traceability so consumers know where products come from and growers can track their product using unique identifiers, such as sequential numbering and bar codes,” he said.

The company also is working on new technologies to assist the produce industry more effectively track and identify their products, Kennedy said.

International Paper, based in Memphis, Tenn., touts the safety advantages of corrugated boxes.

“Corrugated packaging provides enhanced food safety due to the increased sanitary benefits of single-use packaging which eliminates need for washing and sterilization,” said Don Wallace, director of produce at IP.

He added that boxes mesh well with requirements of the Produce Traceability Initiative by “allowing for labels to be attached to packaging.”

At Sealed Air Corp., the most important advancements in safety technology cover several levels, said Kari Dawson-Ekeland, marketing director for adjacent markets with the food & beverage division.

“There’s some degradation that can occur quite quickly. That’s one level of food safety,” she said.

The other level, she said, is carefully scrutinizing the packaging process.

“There are films that have great oxygen transmission that enable you not to have to go to perforation that minimizes cross-contamination,” she said.

Along those lines, packs have become more secure, said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing with Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“The clamshell prevents people hands from touching the fruit at the store level,” he said, adding that clamshells now have more efficient seals and locking systems than ever before.

Prevention of cross-contamination is a priority, he said.

“Our new ready-to-eat Berry Quick Fresh Blueberry Snacks are sealed so that the berries are not at risk for cross-contaminations after they have been triple washed and rinsed in our clean room facility,” he said.

Packaging materials that comply with regulations set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are taking on new importance, said Kellee Harris, spokeswoman with Canby, Ore.-based bag manufacturer Package Containers Inc.

“We have always used FDA-compliant paper because the bulk of our sales are for bags that are used for bulk produce, so we feel that any produce that touches the paper of our bags has to be safe,” she said.