The handling of fresh fruits and vegetables in reusable plastic crates (RPCs) has the potential to increase the sustainability of packaging in the fresh produce supply chain. However, the utilization of multiple-use containers can have consequences related to the microbial safety of this type of food. The present study assessed the potential cross-contamination of fresh cauliflowers with Salmonella enterica via different contact materials (polypropylene from RPCs, corrugated cardboard, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) from wooden boxes). Additionally, the survival of the pathogenic microorganism was studied in cauliflowers and the contact materials during storage. The life cycle assessment (LCA) approach was used to evaluate the environmental impact of produce handling containers made from the different food-contact materials tested. The results show a higher risk of cross-contamination via polypropylene compared with cardboard and MDF. Another outcome of the study is the potential of Salmonella for surviving both in cross-contaminated produce and in contact materials under supply chain conditions. Regarding environmental sustainability, RPCs have a lower environmental impact than single-use containers (cardboard and wooden boxes). To exploit the potential environmental benefits of RPCs while ensuring food safety, it is necessary to guarantee the hygiene of this type of container.
Keywords: Brassica; environmental impact; food contact surface; life cycle analysis; pathogenic bacteria; transfer; wooden boxes.