California Agriculture in the Classroom

Cruisin' for a Bruisin' Food Packaging Specialist

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8

Estimated Time

Six 50-minute sessions

Purpose

In this lesson students will learn that product packaging is a balance between function, food safety, and economics by designing a protective package for shipping perishable fruit. Each package will be presented to the class for evaluation, and the best design will be shipped to test the product's durability.

Materials

For the teacher:

For each group:

For each student:

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Vocabulary

specialty crop: fruits, tree nuts, vegetables, herbs, spices, nursery, floriculture, and horticulture crops that are not considered staple foods.

commodity: something that is bought and sold. Examples of agricultural commodities include milk, alfalfa, grapes, almonds, and poultry.

climate: the usual weather conditions in a certain region.

Biodegradable: the ability of an object to be broken down through the action of microorganisms. For example, paper bags are biodegradable, plastic bags are not.

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is one out of four lessons designed for grades six through eight which promote the development of STEM abilities and critical thinking skills, while fostering an appreciation for the people involved in food production. The new curriculum includes inquiry-based labs, real life challenges for students to investigate and opportunities to plan and construct products and shipping models. Other lessons in this series include: 

Many plant-based agricultural commodities require a specific type of climate for growth. For example, citrus fruits require a very warm climate so they are grown in California, Florida, and Arizona. After harvest the fruit is shipped all over the country so that everyone can enjoy these fruits.

Many considerations go into packaging a food product. The process involves science, technology, engineering, and math and requires a balance between function, food safety, and economics. Many universities have degree programs in food science and technology. Students studying food packaging develop skills in designing innovative packaging styles with exciting opportunities to work on “greener” packaging using biodegradable or recyclable materials.

When designing new food packaging, specialists must consider the mode of transportation, distance, methods for preventing spoilage, food safety regulations, consumer appeal, package durability, cost of packing materials, and much more. In depth information on food packaging materials, reducing waste and environmental impact may be found by searching these topics on the Institute of Food Technologists website.

Packaging is the third largest industry in the United States. Approximately ten percent of each dollar we spend on a product is related to the cost of packaging. Many job opportunities exist in packaging and potential job titles include packaging engineer, packaging scientist, packaging sales and structural designer. The Institute of Food Technologists has a list of universities with food science and technology departments

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask students to identify some of their favorite fruits. Make a list on the board. Point out that these fruits can likely be purchased at your local grocery store. However, were they grown nearby? In some cases, perhaps they were. However, in many cases due to varying climates and growing seasons, we consume fruit (and other foods) that were produced in other areas of our country or even across the world.
  2. Fruit is perishable. Ask your students, "How does the fruit get from the farmer to the grocery store and eventually to you as the consumer?
  3. In this lesson, students will:
    • identify the necessary materials and design packaging for a new food product;
    • learn the characteristics of effective packaging; and
    • learn that packaging a product involves science, engineering, technology, and math.

Procedures

Day 1

  1. This lesson focuses on the science of food packaging and uses fruit as a specific example. Provide several examples of fruit packaging containers for students to examine. Examples include strawberry clam shells, cardboard trays with indentations for holding individual pears or apples, and sacks of oranges. If examples are not available, show the class online examples. Ask students why they think fruit packaging is important. Make a list of ideas on the board.
  2. Use the background information to help develop the list on the board of who is involved in food packaging, its importance, and possible careers. Effective food packaging is important to farmers because they want their product to look appealing and taste fresh when it gets to consumers. Farmers, however, also need to consider the cost of the packaging. Expensive packaging can reduce profits that farmers need to make from the sale of their products. Product packaging is important to consumers who want to purchase a piece of fruit that smells good, tastes good, is clean, is not bruised or damaged, and has been packaged using safe food handling practices and materials.
  3. Explain that students will take on the role of food packaging specialists in a challenge to design the best package to ship one piece of fruit. Not only should the package protect the fruit, but it should also be cost efficient and environmentally friendly. For example, a group could place a piece of fruit inside a very large box that is packed with layers and layers of bubble wrap. While this box might prevent the fruit from being damaged, its large size and use of extra materials would be costly to assemble and ship, and would generate a lot of waste.
  4. Distribute the Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’ lab worksheet and packaging rubric. Explain the lesson process and evaluation using the rubric.
  5. Organize students into groups. Explain that each individual in the group will design and test their own package prototype. The best package in the group will be selected based on rubric scores on package design and durability. The group will then have the opportunity to work together to fine tune the best designed package from their group, which will be presented to the class. The class will then vote on one package to be shipped in the mail with a piece of fruit.

Day 2

  1. Instruct groups to begin their design process by researching materials and designs for their fruit package. Packages should be designed to hold one piece of fruit, such as an apple, pear, or orange. As a class decide which type of fruit the packages will be designed for. This will keep package material cost and shipping cost uniform.
    • The packaging should be suitable for shipping the piece of fruit through the U.S. Postal Service.
    • Examples of websites with packaging materials:
    • Explain to the students that they are not to purchase items from the websites, but they should use the websites to gather ideas for types of materials that could be used to package fruit.
  2. After researching materials, students should assess the feasibility of several materials and designs that might work for their fruit packages. Each student should sketch their own design ideas on their lab sheet along with a list of materials and dimensions.
  3. Each group should brainstorm ideas for their company name and design a decorative label that will go on the fruit. This should be recorded on the lab sheet.
  4. As homework, each student will gather their necessary packaging materials. Suggest that students look in their recycling bins at home or at school. You may supply some basic materials, such as tape or cardboard if needed. Examples of packing materials include cardboard, wood shavings, corn packing peanuts, newspaper, tissue paper, cellophane, poster board, foam board, lint, and wool.

Day 3

  1. Students will meet in their groups and each student will design and build their own prototype package. Students may use the sample pieces of fruit to establish necessary dimensions for package design, however, package evaluation and testing will be done without fruit inside the package.

Day 4

  1. Each student will present their prototype package to the group and the group will evaluate the prototype for craftsmanship, aesthetics, and use of materials using the packaging rubric.
  2. Each student will then subject their package prototype to a durability test for tearing and crushing. Following the test, students will report back to their groups to use the rubric to rate the durability of their packaging.
  3. The package design with the highest score from the rubric will be chosen for further development.

Day 5

  1. The group will develop one final package for their fruit based on improving the design of the package that received the highest score from the rubric. The group must keep track of materials cost, package dimensions, shipping cost, and logistics.

Day 6

  1. Groups will present their package design, cost of materials, and cost of shipping to the class.
  2. Ask students to think like a farmer who has grown the fruit. This farmer wants to choose a design that is durable enough to deliver their fruit to customers without any damage. The farmer also wants to choose a cost effective package.
  3. Instruct the class to vote on the best package for shipping a piece of fruit.
  4. The chosen package should be dropped off at the post office and shipped to the class address. When the package arrives at school, the class will evaluate the condition of the package and the fruit and will come up with ideas for package improvements.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

Variations

ELL Adaptations

Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources

Sources/Credits

This unit was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Secondary Agriculture Education Challenge Grants Program.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Illustrator: Toni Smith
Layout and Design: Nina Danner and Renee Thompson
Copy Editor: Leah Rosasco

Author(s)

Mandi Bottoms & Shaney Emerson

Organization Affiliation

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom