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Most people use the phrase “corrugated cardboard,” but the two are actually very different in the world of packaging engineering. Corrugated material like the type used in pizza delivery boxes is made of three distinct layers of paper with an inside line, outside liner, and fluting running in between. Cardboard, on the other hand, is very thick paper stock used to make cereal boxes and other consumer goods packages.

There’s a big reason that this differentiation matters. Professor Rosalba Lanciotti and her research team at the University of Bologna’s Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences recently published work in Frontiers in Microbiology that proves the ability of corrugated containers to keep fruits and vegetables fresh up to three days longer than other packaging materials.

According to Lanciotti’s research, the microorganisms that threaten produce freshness actually die quicker when placed on corrugated surfaces. They become trapped in the paper fibers and die without water and nutrients. This is in drastic comparison to the same experiment on plastic, where microorganisms were able to thrive and survive much longer.

Dennis Colley, the President and CEO of the Fibre Box Association, emphasized the importance of this discovery. “We’re pleased to see the University of Bologna’s research published in a scientific journal. It reinforces our industry’s commitment to using science in seeking facts about the performance of corrugated packaging.”

Product packaging is a critical yet underappreciated element in product freshness and customer satisfaction. Most average consumers don’t realize the impact of packaging in the quality of their favorite products. As Colley reminds, “This latest work is important because it explains why corrugated stops bacteria. The ability of corrugated packaging to trap microorganisms and pull them away from fruits and vegetables is a clear sign that produce will arrive fresher and last longer packed in corrugated boxes.”

Next time you head to the grocery store, check it out for yourself!