With food safety a top priority, packaging takes on enhanced importance — even in citrus, which often has been showcased in bulk displays in retail stores, said Aaron Fox, executive vice president of Fox Packaging in McAllen, Texas.

“Food Safety is definitely at the top of everyone’s lists of concerns,” and while federal regulations have not specifically affected Fox’s business, it is in the back of people’s minds, he said.

Fox said bags offer an added benefit of being a deterrent to manual handling, as opposed to bulk displays.

“Packing operations go to great lengths to make sure their facilities are clean and their fruit is safe, so I think they sleep better when their product is packed on site.”

Adequate ventilation is the key to a good citrus bag, Fox said.

“That’s not new or exciting. It’s just a fact,” he said.

For fruit, a mesh bag is the best-performing package for consumer packs of citrus, Fox said.

“There is no substitute to freshness — other than low temperatures — than the natural respiration offered by nature’s atmosphere,” he said.

Fox said his company offers a Fox Fresh Mesh Combo bag that balances the need of ventilation and the opportunity for promotion by combining a mesh side and a film side in one bag.

“Utilizing different color mesh helps bring out the qualities of the fruit that you want to emphasize,” he said.

Bags need to be strong, as well as ventilated in order to offer protection from cross-contamination, he said.

Bags have evolved into an array of sizes, but also aesthetics, Fox said.

“Graphics have evolved tremendously, from simple direct-print line art of the old drawstring bags to pretty complex flexographic print,” he said.

It’s all about visual appeals, Fox said.

“Anything consumer oriented is about eye appeal and brands have really stepped up their designs,” he said, noting that licensing and co-branding of national brands has played a role in that evolution.

Sustainability also is playing a more important role, too, Fox said.

“Recyclable plastics are still the best option for meeting the needs of consumers, packers, growers and stores,” he said.

Packaging has evolved, but citrus remains a relatively “low-risk commodity,” as far as safety concerns go, said Trent Bishop, sales manager with Mission, Texas-based Lone Star Citrus Growers.

“However, we take it very seriously,” he said.

Lone Star has personnel in place specifically to ensure the company meets or exceeds all mandated guidelines, Bishop said.

“I do think there needs to be a very open line of communication between the grower community and the consuming public to make sure they understand that what we are doing is safe and what we are doing absolutely has everyone’s health and safety in mind,” Bishop said.

The nature of the product helps to ease some of those worries, said Ray Prewett, president of the Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“With the food safety regulations and the way FDA is approaching that, even though there’s a food safety issue, it’s not grown on the ground, but we are concerned,” he said.