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Food safety is paramount at Kurt Zuhlke & Associates

Kurt Zuhlke & Associates has been the produce plastic packaging experts since the company was founded in 1955. The firm specializes in clamshell packaging that protects tender produce items, extending their shelf life and drastically reducing the spread of germs and pathogens.KZ 3C

The company’s plastic clamshells offer superior protection for a host of produce items, including salad greens.

“The rigid plastic that our clamshells are made out of protects the leaves from being damaged,” Kurt Zuhlke, president and chief executive officer of Easton, PA-based Kurt Zuhlke & Associates told The Produce News. “With traditional bagged salads, a lot of times they’ll put the bags into a sleeve and that mechanical sleeve will be compressed into the bag behind it. Retailers keep pushing them in on the shelf and that creates a compression problem. It is also easy for a plastic bag to be accidentally ripped, which causes a problem, whereby the rigid container does not allow that,” he said.

In addition to salads and leaf vegetables, plastic clamshells are also the ideal container for fragile berries and delicate stone fruits.

“If it is a soft fruit item, it should be merchandised in a clamshell just for the protection from damage,” Zuhlke said. “Items like tomatoes, peaches, apricots and plums are so fragile and have a very low shelf life to begin with that it is important to put them in a rigid container in order to protect them. Shoppers see a tomato or peach and think they can squeeze it to see if it feels good, and then they decide they don’t want that one and opt for the one over there. However, they don’t realize that squeezing it causes the cell walls to break down and within a couple of hours it is deteriorating.”

Rigid clamshells can also be used for a variety of dry packaged items, including candy, nuts, flour and other bulk foods that are often merchandised in the produce aisle. “Today, a lot of retailers insist on that being prepackaged before it gets to the store,” Zuhlke said. “Many chains want a unit price on these items along with the convenience of just pulling them out of the box and putting them on the shelf. Labor is so tight these days that supermarkets are having trouble getting employees, so it is much more convenient to have that item in the clamshell prepacked.”

Another advantage is that in most areas plastic clamshells are easily recycled. In 1994, Kurt Zuhlke & Associates spearheaded the use of recycled No. 1 PETE plastic in its containers, and the containers can be easily recycled again.

“At this point in time, I find that plastic packaging is really holding its own. However, there is pressure from environmental groups to try and do away with all kinds of plastic,” Zuhlke said, adding that many communities have banned plastic straws, utensils and even “single use” plastic shopping bags.

But he pointed out that plastic serves a very important purpose in making food safer and reducing incidents of the spread of pathogens.

“A reusable shopping bag can easily harbor E. coli or listeria because they need to be washed, and most people don’t do that and just leave them in their car trunk. Then this gets passed onto other loose items that may be from another store on a different shopping trip, but when the consumer gets sick they are going to blame the store where they last shopped, even though that pathogen could have been living in that bag from a shopping trip three weeks earlier,” he explained.

Kurt Zuhlke & Associates continues to innovate when it comes to rigid clamshell packaging, and packers and retailers can expect some new items to hit the market in 2020, Zuhlke added.