As a food or beverage product manufacturer, extending the shelf life of your products provides numerous benefits. It gives you more time to transport and sell your products and reduces inventory shrinkage due to spoilage, which translates to lower costs and more goods making it to consumers. It also means you can reach customers located further away from your facilities. Additionally, longer shelf life is convenient for customers, so it can increase your sales and your business’ reputation.
Food manufacturers can use numerous strategies to extend shelves and reduce inventory spoilage, and improving packaging is one of the most fundamental of these. Let’s take a closer look at these strategies by Pritish Kumar Halder.
HOW DOES FOOD SPOILAGE OCCUR?
Food spoilage is a naturally occuring process that makes food unsuitable for consumption and may alter the color, texture, odor and taste of food items. Spoilage affects food quality and may also impact food safety. Various factors can lead to food spoilage, including the following.
Microorganisms: Various type of microorganisms, including bacteria, molds and yeasts, can cause food to spoil. Spoilage microorganisms typically cause food to look or smell unappealing, while pathogenic microorganisms may not cause any noticeable change in appearance, smell or taste, but can cause foodborne illnesses.
Enzymes: Naturally present enzymes are what cause fruits and vegetables to ripen. As produce ripens, its color, texture and taste will change.
Air: When air interacts with components in food, it can cause changes in flavor, color and nutrient content. This process is called oxidation.
Light: Exposure to light can lead to loss of color and nutrients. It may also result in the oxidation of fats.
Pests: Insects, rodents, parasites and other critters can get into food, damaging it and leaving it vulnerable to spoilage.
Physical damage: Damage to food or packaging can make food products more vulnerable to other types of spoilage. Examples of physical damage include bruises and cracks on produce, as well as ripped or dented packaging.
Temperature: Food deteriorates and microorganisms grow more quickly at higher temperatures. Time: Time is an essential factor in food spoilage. Microorganisms need time to grow, and processes such as oxidation and enzyme action take time to occur.
HOW PACKAGING CAN EXTEND FOOD SHELF LIFE
Packaging can help protect food from the various factors that may cause spoilage, so there is a direct link between food packaging and shelf life. Many different kinds of packaging extend shelf life, and various types of packaging that reduce food spoilage focus on protecting against different threats. Here are some of the ways packaging can extend shelf life.
Modified atmosphere packaging: This process involves replacing the air in a package with another gas mixture to prevent oxidation. Optimizing this gas mixture according to the ideal conditions of the packaged food helps preserve it.
Vacuum packaging: In this process, you remove as much of the air as possible from a package, and then seal it so minimal air remains in the package. The package will also have low oxygen permeability. Use this method for foods that do not need air to stay fresh.
Proper gas permeability: For products that need air to remain fresh, you need to choose packaging that has the proper permeability based on the rate of oxygen transmission of the food products. This packaging may contain tiny holes or use a material with optimal gas permeability.
Physical protection: Packaging also physically protects food items, which is crucial for preventing damage that can make food more vulnerable to other spoilage risks.
Barrier packaging: Packaging may contain a foil, metalized or clear barrier that protects the product from oxidation, moisture and other risks.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD PACKAGING FOR YOUR PRODUCT
How do you choose the food packaging material that’s right for your product? You should consider numerous factors, including the following.
Increasing the shelf life of any food product requires you to evaluate the factors that are most likely to cause spoilage. What are the most significant risks for your product when it comes to spoilage? If your product is especially sensitive to oxygen, you’ll need to use a material that provides a strong oxygen barrier. Take time to assess the risks of food spoilage and choose a material that offers sufficient protection against those factors.
Preservation methods used:
The other food preservation methods you use may also play a role in which risks you need to protect against. For example, if you’re adding an oxidant to your product or an oxygen absorber to your package, you might not need as much oxidation protection from your packaging material. If you will be freezing your product, make sure the material you use can withstand the temperatures.
Expected shelf life:
You will also need to consider the minimum shelf life you want your product to achieve, and how much to prioritize extending shelf life beyond that timeframe. Determine the shelf life each type of material can provide for your products, and choose one that helps you meet your goals while balancing other factors.
Your customers should always be a top consideration when choosing packaging materials. What do your customers expect from your product? If they prioritize a long shelf life, you need to select a material that will provide that. They might also value being able to see the product before purchasing it, in which case a clear barrier would be the best choice. If your customers value natural foods and products without preservatives, you will need to rely more on packaging.
Cost is an essential factor in determining which type of packaging to use. Evaluate the cost of each packaging material and the financial benefits it offers to ensure you’re choosing a product that will provide the features you need while remaining within your budget.