Why are produce boxes made by idiots?

As a restaurant kitchen manager, I see lots of produce every day. It all comes in boxes of various sizes and designs. Some cases are designed specifically for the produce contained within, to protect it from shipping damage, but other cases seem to have serious design flaws.

For example, lets look at citrus boxes. Lemons, limes and oranges all arrive in boxes of the same exact size, containing some 40 pounds of fruit. These boxes also have holes cut through the corrugated layers, probably for ripening reasons. The Lime Box guys were smart and made handles out of two of these holes. The lemon and orange box guys just have quarter-sized holes all around the sides that are only big enough to squeeze a finger or two (uncomfortably) inside. Ever try to lift a 40 pound box with four fingers awkwardly shoved into tiny holes? I have, and its not easy. Why don’t the orange and lemon packers walk across the street, and find out who the lime farmers get their boxes from? it would make every one happier to have handles in these hefty boxes.

Next up, the boxes for snow peas are crap. Snow peas are skinny, unlike their pudgy cousins, snap peas. But both varieties are shipped in a box with folded flaps on the top and bottom, carefully cut to leave wide gaps for the snow peas to slide through. Every time I order snow peas, I have to pick up a dozen or so off the floor, cause the little buggers fell blindly to their deaths.

Lately, green beans have been arriving in black plastic-grid crates. The holes are big enough for the beans to slide through, and there are hundreds of holes. and of course, the are different shapes of these plastic crates… tall ones, long ones, etc. a few months ago, I was getting beans on wooden boxes held together with giant copper staples and clasped shut with little wire loops. Of course, there were plenty of places for beans to fall out in this box too. Whats wrong with card board, guys? Your beans would fit inside the box that the bell pepper packers use, and if you put down a paper liner at the bottom to cover the holes, no beans would escape!

I could also complain about the boxes for cucumbers, asparagus and mushrooms if I had the time. Why don’t these guys use some common sense when designing their boxes? Why don’t they consider the entire life of the produce from farm to plate when deciding how to build their containers?

As a bonus rant, I never, ever want to see a sticker on a piece of produce again, unless its an apple. There are dozens of types of apples and many looks similar, but there really only 1 damn red pepper. Don’t put stickers on the red peppers.

The stickers are there for the grocery clerks whose brains continually leak out their ears and can’t remember more than a dozen four digit numbers.

From time to time I’ll pick up a copy of Produce Merchendising. They’ve been touting a standard produce box. It would come in all different sizes, but like Legos, all the different sizes would be modular and play nice together…they’ve been talking about this for at least 15 years. I gave up on it a long time ago.
The holes on a lot of the boxes aren’t actually for ripening but for ‘forced air cooling.’ What they do is after the produce is picked and boxed it’s still very hot from being in the sun. They stack the boxes and force cold air from one side to the other. Just an interesting tidbit.

BTW, here’s a rant I made 12 years ago about lemon boxes.

If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been in the produce business my whole life, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

ETA, the modular produce boxes were/are along the lines of this.
I assure you that you’ll still have dumbass employees tossing full boxes of oranges on top of half full boxes of grapes though.

My Ex-MIL was assisting in a colonoscopy and found a produce sticker stuck to a colon wall once. A few years ago one of the major apple manufacturers talked about switching over to static cling instead of adhesive. Not sure whatever became of that though.

I heartily agree with this rant. I used to work in a fast food restaurant and had to slice fresh tomatoes. And every damn tomato had a sticker on it. You can’t run a tomato through the slicer with a sticker on it. Do you have any idea how labor-intensive it is to remove stickers from every tomato?

There are definitely different types of red peppers, as an example, in the same store. There may be red peppers, imported red peppers, and orgainic red peppers, the latter with a premium price. Personally, I’m nauseated by stickers on my food, but we have to live with them, when we buy retail produce, for entering exact item in the check-out line.

Whoa! Cool! Not to derail the thread, but uhhh, did your ex-MIL ever find…you know…anything else during those travels through the colon?

Whatwith the lights they have on the scopes these days, I bet the sticker just popped right into view!

apologies for lurid curiosity…I’ll see myself out, thanks. :slight_smile:

No way are labels on individual fruit and veg necessary. (Presumably they are convenient for someone, though very inconvenient for most of the rest of us.) I do not think they have been around for much more than about twenty years. I am not confident about quite when they started appearing (maybe its been more like 25 years, or whatever), but certainly I can remember a time when you could buy fruit and veg in a supermarket and it did not have these nasty little labels stuck on it. The checkers coped back then, so they could now.

I live in citrus central in the Central Valley.

The short answer is few if any citrus farmers pack their own produce. this being harvest time, our local roads are filled with trucks carrying 40 tons of oranges to the packing plant. Most of those are Sunkist owned, but not all. Your beef is with them, not the farmer.

I am sure the same is true for the other produce as well, particularly if it comes from California.

As for the boxes, there are many box manufacturers the packers have to choose from, many but I am sure not nearly all market at the Tulare World Ag Expo, which happened to be last week this year.

They offer many features on the boxes to choose from, including the holes and more -strength, crushability, printing, stackability, who knows? Like anything, features come with a price tag attached.

If you want a better box, take it up with the packer, but be prepared to pay more. Hope your diners don’t mind!

As for the labels, expect these to be more, not less common in the future, partly for food safety tracking reasons, and also eventually for marketing reasons.

Are you, or can you talk with, the manager in charge of making the purchases? Contact the suppliers and tell them that you would prefer if they use the recycable plastic box solution? Organic stores around here use them for the domestic suppliers, they come in several standard sizes, are from sturdy green hard plastic. They fold out for use and can be stacked, when emptied at the store, fold flat and give them back to the supplier the next time.

Dito with your other suggestions - talk to the supplier. My best guess as to why company A uses a good box and company B doesn’t is because “It’s always been done this way”. (“Inferior box is cheaper for us than better box” would at least make sense…)

I thought the rant was going to be “if you can find a way to make the sides nigh-indestructable (so that it’s impossible to break down), why can’t you find a way to keep the bottom from falling out?”

While I certainly agree that these stickers are a royal PITA, I do think they’re more necessary now than they were 25 years ago; if memory serves (and sometimes mine doesn’t!), 25 years ago, you had your basic apples: red delicious, golden delicious, maybe a Granny Smith (but probably not); now, you have red delicious, golden delicious, Granny Smith, Jonnagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, etc. Back then, you had your bell peppers: green or red, take your pick. Now you’ve got Organic, Local, Imported, etc. of green, red, yellow, brown, and sometimes purple!

I could go on, but I think my point is made. We have much more variety available to us now than we did then (well, variety was available then, but only from specialty stores), and let’s face it: organically grown red bell peppers look just like the ‘regular’ red bell peppers. But the organic is most likely more expensive. So the store, in order to make sure that the numerous similar-looking varieties are rung in at the right price, puts the stickers on them.

My daughter works as a checker at a grocery store. She says she knows most of the produce codes and there are close to a thousand of them. Besides produce, she also knows the codes for bulk foods and the bakery department. Many of these items also have 5 and 6 digit codes. God forbid her if she gets a code wrong and the customer rips her a new asshole. Of course you can remember every number that has to do with your job. I know I can’t.

To be more accurate, it’s the people who order those weird boxes that deserve condemnation, not the poor drones who actually make them.

I was a checker at Safeway for a few years then worked in produce for a couple more. I agree the stickers serve a useful purpose because you definitely don’t want to get one wrong, especially when some things like tomatoes can go up to $3.99/lb+.

OTOH common things you see every other customer all day every day you quickly learn by heart. Even though it’s been over a decade since I had that job I’ll never forget the codes for cucumbers (4062), bananas (4011), oranges, lettuce, grapes, 6 or 7 types of apples, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. There’s no reason for there to a be sticker on red delicious apples (4016) or roma tomatoes (4087). Shit you’re not going to use the skin or outside parts like cantaloupe (4050) or red onions (4082) who gives a fuck but no one wants to be peeling stickers off of plums or peppers. Other things that are less common, there’s a book of PLU’s in each checkstand so you can look up endives or rutabagas or whatever.

Of the people who buy organic here in Germany, a certain portion will only buy organic veggies in normal supermarkets if they are in closed plastic bags, nets or similar, with the organic label, and not if they are just in a box labeled “organic”, because, with the higher price for organics, they argue that the temptation for the grocery seller to “fill up” an organic box with normal produce is too big. There were some scandals when this was found to be happening.

(The bigger scandal was several years ago, when it was discovered that the supermarket people had quietly filled non-organic eggs into organic boxes and sold as such; the organic producers changed their system to stamp the producer ID numbers directly onto each egg now (with a special ink that won’t bleed inside into the egg, and disappear while cooking it). (The first digit of the number shows which production method, with 0 = organic).

It’s helpful now that there’s self-service checkout. Without the stickers I’d be paging through pictures of various kinds of produce until I found the one I had.

so far, we’ve done lemons,limes,oranges,peppers,peas,beans,aspargus and cucumbers.

So now…it must be said:

What about bananas?
[/obligatory Monty python reference]
Carry on. :slight_smile:

Behold the laser printed fruit label!


I was a grocery clerk 30 years ago, pre-sticker (and pre-scanner, for that matter). Part of my job was to learn the difference between yer Boscs and yer D’Anjous and yer Bartletts. There aren’t that many more varieties than there are now.

And really, your argument is pretty weak: stickers to differentiate green, red, yellow, brown, and purple peppers? :smack: