What would happen if, amidst the pandemic, the heads of the Greek Agriculture Department came for a visit? For Greek farmer Christos Zagaris, a career-long focus on best practices for food safety and sustainability in the supply chain was nationally acknowledged.
Amidst the corona pandemic, Greek farmer Christos Zagaris learned he was having special visitors. These visitors were Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the heads of agriculture from the Greek national government, Minister of Agriculture Makis Voridis and General Manager of the Agriculture Ministry Konstantinos Skrekas. Their goal was to see how highly productive farmers like Zagaris were managing the supply chain situation under Covid-19 and to discuss packaging and food safety.
Zagaris was more than ready to showcase his best practices – and they received an incredible acknowledgement. "The Ministers considered our farm a model in the development of the agricultural sector," Zagaris explains. That wasn’t all. Television cameras and Greek news descended on the farm since "the ministry also declared us ‘Farm of the Year.’"
How did Zagaris reach this career pinnacle? In a word, foresight. Long before the pandemic, Zagaris has been working to ensure the quality and safety of his produce. This means constant observation of protocols and procedures, from sowing and harvesting, and all the way through packaging and placement in crates. "We check all procedures daily with modern means and solve any problems that may arise," he explains. "And through continuous development of our crops, we make new collaborations that can develop our already high-quality produce."
Along the supply chain, fresh produce can become damaged during transport from farms to distribution centers to retailers. To better understand the effect of packaging on damage rates, The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics and the Cold-Chain Management Working Group at the University of Bonn addressed this problem in a joint study. Coordinated by Germany’s Foundation for Reusable Systems (Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg), researchers investigated the potential link between packaging damage and packaging type, as well as the potential link between loss of freshness of fruit and vegetables and packaging type.
The researchers found that throughout the whole supply chain, from the producer to the outlet, around 4% of all disposable packaging was damaged. For reusable packaging, however, the figure was just 0.1%.
When packaging is damaged, the quality of the goods transported may be compromised. The researchers also found that in a central warehouse, around 40% of fruit and vegetables that arrived in damaged disposable packaging were also partly damaged; for reusable packaging, however, the figure was nearly halved, at around 22%. And in the retail outlets, around 20% of produce that arrived in damaged disposable packaging was also partially damaged; however, no damage was observed for produce transported in reusable packaging.
The study concluded that the nature of the packaging (disposable or reusable) has a significant influence on the packaging damage rate. Compared to disposable packaging, reusable packaging suffers significantly lower rates of damage. This shows that the correct choice of packaging can significantly reduce damage to fresh produce and subsequently cut food loss.
As Zagaris’ guests from the Greek government observed, foresight was everything to managing food safety during the pandemic. "The protocols regarding food safety and hygiene have not changed much in our company since for us hygiene plays an important role in the whole process of sorting and packaging of our products," Zagaris continues. "We added disinfection stations, and all staff were checked with special thermometers before their shifts and upon entering the property."
Special attention, as always, was given to his employees. "Staff are required to inform us in case of illness, and now specifically coughing and difficulty breathing. And, of course, we kept official health and hygiene information posted in all areas and in a variety of languages for our workers, so everyone was clear about the hygiene measures to be taken."
The Greek ministry also paid close attention to Zagaris’ hygiene and disinfection procedures. For this reason, Zagaris’ use of IFCO Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) was particularly interesting to the government officials, Zagaris says. "I participate in Global GAP, and with it, I use RPCs. The RPCs were admired by the Greek ministry for their certified disinfecting and cleaning procedures. At all times, this is important, of course, but even more so in the pandemic. The Greek Ministers also appreciated the traceability of the RPCs."
The RPCs’ sustainability are another feature that the ministry appreciated, explains Zagaris. "RPCs are durable, made of hard plastic, which does not allow exogenous factors to corrode or damage the packaging. This ensures the safe transport of our produce," he continues. At the same time, the ministry admired the easy palletization of Zagaris’ produce in RPCs, and their space-saving in warehousing.
By providing ideal ventilation, durable protection and preparation for efficient automated handling, and extended shelf life, IFCO RPCs help minimize food loss and waste during post-harvest handling. IFCO also works with growers and retailers to efficiently manage fluctuations in demand through flexible order processing and RPC delivery. Any empty crates are easily swapped out in-store with full ones. Through this "one-touch" system, IFCO RPCs also reduce the need for manual handling, so delicate foods suffer less damage. Less food waste and less solid waste from transport packaging are the result.
For Zagaris, the benefits of partnership with IFCO are multiple. "IFCO has always been a reliable partner to maintain the safe transport and quality of our products," Zagaris says. "With IFCO’s support, we’ve also been rewarded with management benefits: easy palletization, space saving in our warehouse and easy assembly that helps minimize time during the packaging process. In this pandemic period, IFCO’s attention and support has been invaluable to continuing our work."
In Christos Zagaris’ farming career, his day with the Greek agriculture ministry was a great acknowledgement about his careful efforts and his supply chain partnership with IFCO. "RPCs are thus part of the solution to maintaining quality, freshness and sustainability," Zagaris concludes. "In a time of pandemic, and hopefully soon a post-pandemic era, these RPCs are a fundamental part of food safety."