HU Knowledge Network: New Developments in Food Packaging & Distribution
Oct 31, 2008
By Dr. Rene Massengale, Associate Professor of Biotechnology**
You’ve probably considered the quality of your food quite often either while consuming a meal at a restaurant or shopping in your local grocery store. But have you ever considered the food package itself? What is the wrapper made of? Why? Are there sensors on the package and what do they do? How does your food get from store to table without losing its flavor or quality?
A recent report from the Institute of Food Technologists highlights recent developments in food packaging. These developments stem from research in the food biotechnology industry on innovative food packaging solutions. The research focuses not on what is in the food, but what is in the package. The major goal of food packaging is the protection and preservation of the food product from environmental contamination.
Smart food technology
Today’s food scientists have developed tools that make active food packaging and smart food technology a reality. Active packaging is the interaction of the food wrapper with the food product and the environment to remove odors, control spoilage, or preserve quality. Smart packaging technology is designed to actually monitor the food quality through technology such as freshness, temperature, or quality indicators built into the package and communicate that to either sellers or consumers.
Traditionally, foods have been packaged in a container made of plastic, paper, or other substance that is simply designed to be a passive barrier between the food product and the environment. Examples of active food packaging, which is quite different and allows for longer preservation of foods, include the drip-absorbent pad in a package of chicken or an odor-absorbing pad in a package of fish. Smart packaging, which allows for monitoring of food quality, may be in the form of a temperature strip, or gas indicator strip on a package, or a ripeness indicator on a vegetable or fruit.
Preserving food flavor and quality
Advances in food flavor control have focused on reducing the loss of food flavor during storage. Food often loses its flavor over time because the food flavors are often absorbed by the food packaging itself or degraded by other products within the package. This process is called flavor scalping because it is the unwanted removal of food flavor. Foods can also pick up odors or flavors from other separately packaged foods. High-barrier materials are now being developed that prevent loss or transfer of these desirable food flavors. So your chicken will still taste like chicken, and your salad won’t.
Sustainable food packaging
Growing interest and research is now being focused on developing food packaging that is sustainable. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition identifies sustainable packaging as that which meets the following criteria among others:
· Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for consumers
· Uses renewable energy
· Created using clean production technologies
· Made from materials healthy for people and for the environment
· Designed to efficiently use materials & energy
· Can be recycled or recovered effectively
Streamlining Food Packaging Distribution
Monitoring and tracking the distribution of packaged foods is clearly important in dealing with foodborne disease outbreaks such as the recent public outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with tomatoes and peppers or E. coli infections connected to eating contaminated spinach. The U.S. FDA recalled over 1,300 processed foods such as these between 1999 and 2003; but the rapid recall of potentially contaminated products is only one step in protecting public health. Rapid localization of all distributed products allows health investigations to occur more quickly and reduces the potential number of illnesses due to consumption of the contaminated product. Recent food science research has focused on the use of RFID systems and electronic product codes for monitoring and tracking of foods. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses radio waves to track items wirelessly through the use of a tag on the item, a reader, and a computer system. RFID shows promise for tracking foods in the future provided that issues of cost, technology access, and international standards can be addressed.
Given that the food packaging industry accounts for over 55% of the $130 billion packaging industry in the U.S., these developments are more than just food aesthetics. These advances and others will ensure that the food we eat is safe, high quality, and has a positive impact on the environment.
For more information, contact Dr. Rene Massengale at 717-901-5133 or firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also visit the website of the Institute of Food Technologists for the full report: http://www.ift.org/cms/?pid=1001891.
For more details on the Biotechnology major, or to schedule a personal appointment, call 717.901.5101 or email Admissions@HarrisburgU.net.
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in applied science and technology fields to a diversity of student learners. By integrating experiential learning with business mentors and internships, the University educates career-minded individuals in nationally critical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, giving them the tools to succeed in a 21st century knowledge-based economy. The University's mission also includes a dedication to create, attract and expand economic opportunities in the region.