Helping tomato grower-shippers comply with Florida’s stricter tomato food safety regulations, a reusable shipping container manufacturer is touting its success with developing reusable harvest containers.

Last July, new rules, called T-GAPs and T-BMPS, for good agricultural practices and best management practices, went into effect for Florida’s tomato industry.

The state’s tomato industry persuaded lawmakers to pass a mandatory safety program requiring standards and audits.

The rules, among other things, including rigorous state inspections of fields and packinghouses, prohibit harvesters from using corrugated boxes in the fields.

InterCrate Container Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, has released a case study on its harvest containers, and how they help make that shift from corrugated to plastic.

InterCrate entered the Florida tomato deal in 2003 when it developed a custom container for Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto. Pacific, which wanted to ripen its tomatoes in reusable totes, found nothing commercially available that matched its corrugated box, said Justin Elvin-Jensen, InterCrate owner. The container InterCrate developed was sturdy enough to run through Pacific’s packing line, palletizers and conveyors, he said.

Since then, InterCrate has worked with other Florida tomato packers and distributors, including Del Campo Fresh, Immokalee, Harllee Packing Inc., Palmetto, Heavenly Produce Co., Tampa, and Tomato Thyme Corp., Riverview, and Manteca, Calif.-based Ace Tomato Co. Inc.

The packers, Elvin-Jensen said, had concerns about correctly following Florida’s then-developing regulations.

Elvin-Jensen said the InterCrate 6.7 container complies with the regulations, has smooth interiors to preserve fruit quality, is well-ventilated, is easy to clean and provides efficient return.

If a worker improperly lowers a container in nest stacking, the container doesn’t damage product in the other containers, Elvin-Jensen said.

“The ease of use in having swing bars means they can move very quickly,” he said. “That’s another aspect of quality because you have a very secure container. The possibility of damaging product while stacking is virtually eliminated.