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Packaging for Safer Products with Longer Shelf-life

02 February 2013

Trends in meat and food packaging are very much in line with the major demands of the meat industry in general.

All in all, the sector is seeking to make its contribution to bringing products onto the market which are safer and have a longer shelf life.

With new ideas relating to hygienic production methods, processing and packaging, with products from the packaging machine manufacturers designed for energy-efficient processing and with further developments from the manufacturers of packaging materials in terms of barrier packaging, the products showcased by the exhibitors reflect the major challenges facing the entire meat industry.

With the increasing density of population in urban centres, the trend is towards supplying more and more people with packaged food, and this trend is set to continue. That demands even more sophisticated logistics, coupled with packet sizes of meat and sausages that meet the consumers' requirements. For, at the same time, we are supposed to be preventing food from going bad, and indeed of being wasted as a result, as well as supplying high-quality, safe products to more people. Whilst public debate rages about the long-known, but for all that, often little-known "best-before date", the food industry is working intensively with its partners in the packaging industry to produce effective processing and packaging solutions.

Flexible Packaging finds New Areas of Application

The preservation of products in the meat industry has a long tradition. Today's procedures, such as autoclavation, the sterilisation of lots of items together, are very effective – but often not very flexible. The desire for new packaging solutions based on materials that are lighter, more transparent, more resistant during processing and, above all, more flexible, presupposes a re-think on the part of many people who work in the meat processing industry. There are already solutions available on the market that optimise existing machinery with regard to energy efficiency and flexibility; so it is becoming increasingly possible to make use of film-based packaging concepts, which can resist the high stresses of autoclavation and make possible entirely new types of product. New designs of machine are already envisaging, at this stage, the possibility of using appropriately adapted plastics in future, alongside traditional metal-based packaging. Packaging-materials manufacturers are already successfully collaborating with the plastics industry, who are developing ever more effective raw materials, increasingly tailored to specific applications, to produce new film-based concepts for new kinds of packaging. These offer both longer shelf life and more consumer-friendly handling (e.g. ease of opening / peel and, indeed, resealability) and, above all, some interesting design options. The demands of marketing and the need to be able to present one's own brand in an unmistakeable way at the P.O.S. are just as much on the increase in the meat industry as elsewhere. This requires greater variety of packaging, which addresses the consumer's changing habits and wants.

Fight Against the Micro-organisms

One of the major driving forces in the development of optimised packaging solutions remains the food safety that everyone so earnestly wants. Particularly with packaged fresh foodstuffs, transpiration and/or respiration processes lead to high relative humidity in the packaging. As a result, either condensation forms or the water is redistributed throughout the product and this results in a loss of freshness and diminished quality. High relative humidity and condensation favour the growth of micro-organisms (moulds, bacteria or yeasts). Too low levels of humidity, on the other hand, are equally undesirable, as fresh produce then dries out. A current project at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) is specifically addressing this problem: How can packaging ensure exactly the right "climate" for the contents, i.e. maintain appropriate relative humidity in the ullage space? The Fraunhofer Institute is working on several methods of regulating the relative humidity within the packaging in a controlled way and of adjusting it to the particular foodstuff: tailoring the permeability to water vapour through the selection and modification of the polymers, micro and macro perforation and the introduction of active substances into the polymer matrix. The results of the research will be presented in 2013.

Initiatives for Food Safety Lead to New Legislation

The battle to prevent the spoiling or loss of quality in foodstuffs when packaged is also being led by other processes, including, for example, High Pressure Processing (HPP). Alongside fundamental simplifications with regard to process control procedures optimised so as to be as hygienic as possible, packaging-machine manufacturers are implementing other solutions that make the management of MAP, skin or vacuum packaging safer for the user. These should result in increased efficiencies for the meat industry, i.e. less waste and fewer returns.

New regulations point to the fact that people must work seriously at maintaining hygiene and safety throughout the entire value creation chain. Since fresh meat is increasingly being processed and packaged in retail outlets, there are some new rules of the game that have emerged with the creation of new standards (the International Featured Standards - IFS 6), which have been in force since 1 July 2012. A comparison of the IFS Food Version 6 with its predecessor, IFS Version 5, shows well that the retail landscape is setting distinctly stricter standards for food safety. It is no longer just a question of quality management in certified companies. Numerous efforts need to be made, in addition, specifically to document the safety of the food. Every change to the existing product or its packaging must be considered and implemented in accordance with the regulations as laid down.

IFFA – number 1 for the meat industry - offers a comprehensive overview of the new products, ideas and trends in the packaging industry. This is the first time that the leading manufacturers of packaging technology, measuring and weighing equipment as well as top suppliers from the processing and cutting segment have all come together in Hall 11 of the Frankfurt Fair and Exhibition Centre. The companies exhibiting in the product group slaughtering, dismembering and processing are once again accommodated in Halls 9.0 and 9.2 and products relating to processing can again be found in Hall 8. New products on the topic of "Sales – everything for the butcher's shop" and the manufacturers of packaging materials will, for the first time, be located in Hall 4.1. One floor below that, in 4.0, market-leading companies will present a global range of products and services relating to ingredients, spices and additives.

February 2013

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