Packaging safety is a key issue for snack and bakery producers who strive to safely maximize product shelf life. Innovations such as modified-atmosphere packaging (MAP) and active packaging technologies are leading the way, along with tamper-resistant materials. Also, marking and coding technologies improve traceability.
Extending shelf life
Sealed Air Corp., Charlotte, NC, offers MAP solutions to extend bakery product shelf life from one or two weeks to more than 40 days. The technology is designed to reduce spoilage for preservative-free, whole-grain, gluten-free and other high-end, specialty bakery products that often are susceptible to mold. The package combines active barrier films with gas-flush processing to deter oxygen ingress and prevent mold growth. Together, these solutions preserve freshness and quality while extending sales time for retailers, and the consumption window for the consumer.
For goods that are especially oxygen-sensitive, such as gluten-free products, Cryovac Freshness Plus optimizes freshness and shelf life by using an oxygen-absorbing barrier. “Scavenging components provide a higher level of protection from oxygen compared to standard barrier materials that only contain a passive barrier. The scavenging polymer is invisible to metal detectors, allowing food processors to use metal detection systems after the packaging operation,” says Anne Sauer, global sector leader, food care business, Sealed Air Corp. “The longer shelf life provided by Cryovac Freshness Plus enables food processors to increase sales through new, wider or different distribution channels. This solution further allows bakeries to move their products from the frozen food section to the fresh bakery section in grocery stores.”
New types of packaging materials like films and barriers help extend the shelf life of snack and bakery products, as well. Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, Midland, MI, offers RETAIN Polymer Modifiers, which allow converters to recycle barrier film trim back into film production without sacrificing optical or physical properties. “Compared to other control films, RETAIN Polymer Modifiers help make packages clearer, maintain mechanical properties and significantly reduce gels in films,” says Holly Dunnill, market director, North America food and specialty packaging. “Packaging made with this technology can be recycled in a polyethylene recycling stream, addressing recycling challenges and complications in multilayer flexible barrier packaging due to differences in material properties.”
Another innovation, Dow’s INNATE Precision Packaging Resins, provides a strong stiffness-toughness balance at low temperatures to ensure product freshness and protection for specialty and gluten-free products sold via refrigerated or frozen departments at retail.
In the area of tamper-resistant materials, Dunnill sees increased use of DuPont APPEEL peelable sealant resin. The film consists of a PET layer laminated to a peelable sealing layer made of a special grade of peelable sealant resins. “This type of packaging provides superior safety and processing characteristics compared to other resins and offers a broad temperature-sealing window to keep food fresh.”
The latest resealable packaging innovations also boost tamper-resistance. Zip Pak, an ITW Co., Carol Stream, IL, offers the Zip360, which creates a 360-degree perimeter zipper around the package, providing easy access to contents, a strong in-store shelf presence and convenient home storage. Pour & Lok from Zip-Pak provides an easy pour option for a wide range of dry goods in various pouch sizes.
Sensus, part of the Zip-Pak family of resealable closures known as Sensory Feedback Fasteners, creates a tactile bumping sensation and clicking sound when the zipper is opened and resealed. Sensus can be applied to various types of flexible packaging regardless of pouch size, and is well suited for form/fill-seal machine applications.
New non-thermal technologies such as high pressure processing (HPP) have been developed to meet consumer demand for additive-free, natural products, according to Sean Riley, senior director, media and industry communications, PMMI, Reston, VA.
HPP is a USDA-approved process for food that uses water pressure to eliminate potential pathogens and food spoilage organisms. Unlike thermal technologies, HPP does not involve heat, which can destroy vitamins and change flavors. It provides a solution for processors wanting to deliver fresh, healthy, safe options to consumers.
“With HPP, high pressure is transmitted uniformly throughout the product, rendering vegetative cells of both spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms inactive. Not only does HPP extend shelf life, it also increases food safety. The water pressure inactivates yeast, molds, bacterial cells and many viruses,” Riley explains.
Research and development of packaging materials to improve food safety continues worldwide, according to Andrew Manly, communications director, The Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, Utrecht, the Netherlands. The NanoPack project, which aims to develop a microbial-inhibiting film for full commercial development by 2020, has begun testing a wide range of products, including bakery goods, he reports.
“The NanoPack technology uses essential oils to derive nanotubes, which are incorporated into master batches of film. Early tests on bread and bakery goods, without preservatives, have been very encouraging, extending shelf life and product quality by up to 100 percent compared with traditional film,” Manly notes.
Another interesting project involves a biodegradeable film that changes color as the food product begins to perish. The creation of a Brazilian startup that grew out of a project at the University of Rio de Janeiro, it is based on a biomolecule that interacts with the food. “The fact that it is fully biodegradable should make it attractive to investors,” adds Manly.
One of the pioneers in active packaging technology is Digimarc, Beaverton, OR, which has created a Digimarc Barcode, according to Tom Newmaster, founder, FORCE pkg, Philadelphia. The combination of embedded bar codes and the Digimarc app creates a unique identity that can communicate information to consumers. “A consumer points a smartphone at a package and opens online channels detailing everything from ingredient information to sourcing, promotions and recipes. For bakery and snack foods, embedded bar codes can provide information on gluten-free, non-GMOs, organic ingredients — even connect the consumer with video content on where these ingredients are farmed and how they come to market,” he explains.
Consumers increasingly want to know as much as possible about the products they consume. To make this happen, information such as best-by dates, manufacturing information and barcodes must be printed clearly on product packaging. Manufacturers can employ continuous inkjet, laser marking systems or thermal transfer overprinting solution to add a traceability solution.
OAL, Peterborough, England, has introduced an artificial intelligence vision system, APRIL Eye, which ensures date code verification. By combining machine learning and artificial intelligence, the system can process 300 packs a minute. The system uses cameras and scanners to verify each date code to ensure that they match the programmed date code for that specific product run. The production line comes to a complete stop if a date code doesn’t match, ensuring that no incorrect labels are released into the marketplace.
Looking ahead, the use of subtle or hidden coding solutions will expand as regulating agencies focus on preventing adulterated foods from entering the product stream, according to Chinaecherem Omenyinma, vertical marketing manager, Videojet Technologies, Chicago. “Covert codes can be applied using ultraviolet (UV) ink that can only be read with a UV light. These discreet codes can be a part of a company’s traceability solution as they help to combat counterfeit products.”