Products for Food – Introduction
The significance of food packaging can be determined from the fact that plastic film consumers use 90% of the total film, whereas those of food packaging utilize 35% of all packaging films. With the percentage of trash bags and merchandise bags at 26%, these two applications contribute over half of the entire 50% packaging film consumption.
The large institutional market consists of film used in institutional kitchens, restaurants and by caterers to overwrap food plates, trays, sandwiches, glassware and utensils. Growth in most markets is a modest 2-3%, but food applications are growing at over 10%.
All foods are perishable, and as they age, become less palatable, lose nutritional value and over time can be dangerous for consumption. Many food products are thermally processed before packaging to destroy bacteria. Other food products use refrigeration and sterilization to slow down food spoilage causing bacterial growth. Exposure to air can cause food to develop bacteria and support the growth of the Clostridia organisms that are capable of producing botulism toxins.
Maintaining the correct water content is important for extended shelf life. Dry foods that become moist experience increased biochemical degradation. Water loss from wet foods alters their physical characteristics and increases microbiological growth. Protective packaging addresses all these considerations.
Food processors, responsible for the health of their customers and their own business profit requires them to continually search for the lowest cost packaging that meets all their needs.
Not unsurprisingly, the broad array of foods produced must be safeguarded against a deluge of potentially dangerous environmental factors. All the aforementioned reasons, health, perishability, cost and variety of products, explain the broad range of film structures/ package types used, not to mention the billions of dollars invested on packaging application materials.
For packaging, the availability of plastic films for foods has made packaging much more prevalent, given that only plastic films are capable of providing the many types of low-cost protection necessitated by perishable foods. Spoilage of food has decreased with the proliferation of low-cost food packaging, thus enabling some parts of the world to continue supporting a growing population.
Enormous energy savings have been made possible by savings in weigh via packaging. These energy-conserving packages have significantly increased the globe’s supply of non-renewable fossil fuels. Among al flexible packaging material, plastic films are known to be the most energy efficient, in that the ratio of fuel saving to fuel used for making the required weight of packaging material remains the highest for plastic.
With the advent of plastic films, some of the packaging, distribution and merchandising techniques which have been made available to food packages include:
- Central packaging of processed meat reduces cost, enhances quality and facilitates identification of brands.
- It is now possible to offer precooked dinners and entrees ready to heat and eat with minimal clean-up. This dining-related revolution has facilitated some key life style changes to have unfolded after the Second World War.
- In addition to saving weight, bag-in-box packaging facilitates packaging of items which can be dispensed in smaller quantities at a time without the accompanying air introduction that can spoil the un-dispensed residue.
- It is possible to package fresh produce in controlled atmospheres. This approach helps maintain the CO2/O2 ratio at optimum level for the packaged item and significantly increases the products’ shelf-life
- Through the avoidance of overcooking during retorting, the retort pouch improves the taste of foods besides contributing towards weight savings. Despite not being excessively large, it is not farfetched to regard this pouch as an illustration of the transition in trend from glass/metal to plastic packaging of foods that are oxygen sensitive.