New technologies, perspectives, and global standards are impacting packaging and providing increased options for food manufacturers. While some are brand new technologies still in the research phase, others are improvements on established methods, while still others are simply an increase in the awareness and use of traditional processing. On the following pages QA takes a new look at five of these packaging processes to relay what’s new; who’s doing it; ... and why.

Codex Committee Finalizes Food Labeling Standard

In late 2017, the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labeling met to address several proposed changes to international labeling standards used as the basis for arbitrating trade disputes by governments around the world. Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally adopted food standards and related texts which, though voluntary, often serve as a basis for national legislation. At the meeting, the committee:

  • Resolved some remaining issues related to date marking including the agreement to retain the list of exemptions from the date marking provisions of the General Standard for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods (GSLPF). They noted that the list was not exhaustive, but the exemptions would not apply if food safety were compromised. With the final revisions, the GSLPF was forwarded to the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) for final adoption at its July 2018 session. 
  • Agreed to take up new work on Front of Package Labeling (subject to approval by the CAC), but did not agree to new work on consumer preference claims or a number of other topics discussed in the plenary, including alcohol labeling. Several of these proposals will be the subject of discussion papers to be reviewed at the next session of CCFL.
  • Will continue their work on a stand-alone guidance document for the labeling of non-retail containers by an electronic working group (eWG) that is led by India and co-chaired by Costa Rica and the United States. For a detailed report, visit https://bit.ly/2MQQbkR.
While preserving and sterilizing packaged food, HPP also helps assure quality and extend shelf life.
©Suzannah Skelton | iStock

High Pressure Processing

High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a method of preserving and sterilizing packaged food, using cold temperatures and high pressure to improve food safety. It also helps assure the quality, taste, and texture of food products and extend their shelf life. To discover how HPP is being used and the extent of awareness among food processors and retailers, Universal Pure commissioned a third-party, online survey in October 2017.

Findings from the survey, for which 80% of respondents were food producers and 20% food retailers, included:

  1. Familiarity and use of HPP is increasing:
    • 7
    • 8% of retailers have a favorable view of HPP.
    • 77% producers and 74% retailers see its benefit for eliminating pathogens, allowing cleaner food labels, enhancing taste, and extending shelf life.
    • 85% said HPP used by a food producer positively affects their purchasing decision.
    • 81% of producers reported their companies are using HPP at some level. This is a 21% increase over responses in a similar 2016 survey commissioned by the company.
  2. HPP was preferred over other methods for measures concerning:
    • 67% food quality
    • 59% food safety
    • 5
    • 6% food waste
  3. The most common reasons producers use HPP are for:
    • 73% shelf-life extension
    • 63% food safety benefits
    • 58% nutrient preservation
    • 54% cleaner label enablement
  4. Both the retailers and producers surveyed showed a significant interest in shelf-life impact:
    • 96% of retailers are more likely to purchase a product with a longer shelf life.
    • 94% of food producers could expand distribution range if their products had a longer shelf life.
Food-grade polymers can be custom designed to improve food safety as edible coatings to increase fresh produce’s shelf life.

Can Food Packaging Impart Antimicrobial Properties?

Gastroenteritis and hepatitis, caused by human noroviruses and hepatitis A, respectively, are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with human enteric viruses. But currently, food manufacturing processes that may inactivate human enteric viruses cannot be applied without adversely affecting food quality, according to a study by a group of scientists from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA) in Valencia, Spain. Therefore, the effective prevention of contamination, new food-processing strategies, new sanitation approaches, and consumer education could reduce enteric virus numbers and thereby decrease consumer risks of enteric virus infections, the study explained.

Among these strategies, one promising technology is the use of polymers and biopolymers with antiviral activity. Food-grade polymers can be customdesigned to improve food safety, either as novel food-packaging materials imparting active antimicrobial properties, applied in food contact surfaces to avoid cross-contamination, or as edible coatings to increase fresh produce’s shelf life. The incorporation of antimicrobial agents into food-grade polymers can be used to control the food microbiota and even target specific foodborne pathogens to improve microbiological food safety and to enhance food quality. With enteric viruses responsible for one fifth of acute gastroenteritis cases worldwide, the development of food-grade polymers and biopolymers with antiviral activity for food applications is a topic of increased interest, both for academia and the food industry, even though developments are still limited.

To provide some insights into the potential of these developments to improve viral food safety, the scientists reviewed existing studies in this widely unexplored area, including those which evaluate the potential of polymers or biopolymers with antiviral activity by exploring their efficacy against hantavirus A and human norovirus, mainly using norovirus surrogates.

Comparisons among studies were complicated by the use of different virus titers, inoculum-suspending matrices, and virus-recovery procedures, as documented in the review, and antiviral polymers have been mainly applied in in-vitro experiments with different levels of success. But the authors noted that the use of metals or metal nanoparticles to render antimicrobial polymeric materials has significant potential applications. This is particularly the case in food contact and packaging applications. But there are still issues, such as regulation and efficacy at low dosages, that need to be better addressed and resolved for this technology to be widely used in industrial applications. The most promising research is oriented toward the mastering of nanoparticles, which seems to offer better stability, efficacy, and cost effectiveness.

Although there is increasing interest in the use of antimicrobial packaging and edible coatings, motivated by the increasing consumer demand for safe and stable foods, the authors found little information available in the literature about how biopolymers could act as carriers of antiviral compounds in real food samples. Therefore, the development of biopolymers with antiviral activity and their applications in the food area is, today, an open field of research that needs to be fully addressed. Read the full report.

Many people think of pasteurization as a complex process, but in reality, it is relatively simple.
©agnormark - stock.adobe.com

Putting Pasteurization Into Perspective

As food and beverage processing becomes more complex and food supply chains longer, the importance of pasteurization has increased, but pasteurization is not always well understood. Following are some pasteurization facts from HRS Heat Exchangers to put pasteurization into perspective.

  • Simplicity. Many people think of pasteurization as a complex process, but in reality, it is relatively simple. Pasteurization requires that a material be held for a certain time at a certain temperature to kill micro-organisms. Although it adds a step to the manufacturing process, if well designed it should not slow down throughput or place additional management burdens on the plant. Additionally, the use of continuous pasteurization systems mean that the process is simple and the potential for product damage or change in quality is minimized.
  • Variation. Pasteurization can be used on a variety of liquid and semi-liquid materials. While simple Newtonian fluids will be the easiest to work with and often can be effectively pasteurized with a simple plate heat exchanger, there are solutions for almost any material.
  • Energy use. The amount of energy used in food pasteurization is highly variable depending on the process used, the nature of the material being treated, and the heat exchanger used. The bulk of any energy requirement is used to raise the temperature of the food. While traditional pasteurization units generally dump the heat afterward, new heat exchanger technology enables the heat to be recaptured and used again, increasing efficiency by up to 70%.
  • Maintenance. Systems that use corrugated tubes, together with integrated cleaning-in-process (CIP), also can minimize the amount of fouling and therefore the amount of cleaning necessary to maintain efficiency. Careful design of static tubes also can help to keep down production (and therefore purchase) costs.
  • Microbial reduction. Unlike sterilization, pasteurization does not completely eliminate micro-organisms which may be present in the food. Pasteurization reduces the microbial load by a significant factor (for example by five logs) which in normal circumstances reduces contaminating pathogens to a level at which they do not pose a hazard.
  • Product quality. Pasteurization need not be overly onerous or detrimental to the quality of the product. With the correct choice of equipment, pasteurization does not need to have a negative effect on plant throughput or efficiency and a well-designed system can enhance the overall facility, helping to add flexibility to the business.

Read the full paper.

Some areas of conformity are visible (e.g., all 10 hotdogs in a pack), but many are not.
©Sergey Ryzhov - stock.adobe.com

Ensuring Package Conformity

To stay ahead in the crowded packaged food marketplace, brand owners must ensure that they provide the highest levels of consistency and repeatability of conforming food products to consumers. As discussed in a Mettler-Toledo white paper, conformity of packaged food means organizations must comply with food safety standards, regulations, or legislation — national or international.

However, there is also an abundance of food safety guidelines that manufacturers, processors, and retailers should refer to or respect. Regulatory non-compliance can result in recalls and financial penalties, and be a barrier to trade for some countries, regions, or retailers.

For the consumer, the principle of conformity is to not mislead them into purchasing a food product that they would not have already bought based on the information displayed. Some areas of conformity are visible (e.g., all 10 hotdogs in a pack), but many are not, so nonconforming elements that can be digested are potentially harmful — hence, trust is paramount.

But conformity is much deeper than food safety compliance. It is ensuring that the package is accurately presented to the consumer in terms of their product and brand expectations. This could be as simple as ensuring that the label is in exactly the same position; or it can be as complex as all the chocolates within a box having the same amount of topping to filling ratio.

The objectives of conformity are fairly similar no matter where one is in the food supply chain.

Those include objectives to:

  • Comply with food safety and labeling regulations and guidance.
  • Fulfill retailer contractual obligations.
  • Ensure products are safe and unspoiled during transportation.
  • Combat anti-counterfeit and ensure security through the identification of authentic products through unique coding and securing of goods with tamper-proof seals.
  • Improve traceability capabilities by accurate bar coding, lot codes, and label information.
  • Prove due diligence through real-time recording of food safety activities.
  • Ensure the presentations of the product and package are in perfect condition and as advertised.
  • Display and check legitimate date coding on the packaged product.

Combining advanced product inspection technologies, robust food safety management programs, and quality assurance processes will enable manufacturers and brand owners to consistently produce conforming packaged food.

In maintaining this, they can secure a strong reputation in the industry as an advocate for food safety and, in the event of a product recall, will be able to quickly act and regain their position in the packaged food marketplace.

Read the full white paper.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.