As the trade markets continue to increase at an impressive rate globally, the need for cost-effective, efficient and hardwearing packaging is growing too. One of the sectors that greatly benefits from the innovations of packaging is the fresh produce markets, with fresh fruits and vegetables having to travel thousands of miles across the globe to reach our supermarket shelves, it is paramount that the packaging does its job to preserve and protect the produce so that it is still at its best when we eat it. If the packaging is not perfect, and the product arrives damaged or in poor quality, then the whole supply chain is affected. If this happens on a large scale, then there can be massive issues for companies.
To avoid these issues, companies such as ourselves must provide high-quality, low-cost packaging to a range of sectors to help them to keep their product at the best it can be. Packaging machines are a fantastic way to preserve and protect a wide range of products during their shelf lives. But how can these packaging processes actually extend the shelf life of a product? Read on to find out.
First, we must think about the issues that may arise to find a way to solve them, a few of these include:
- Damage in transit
- Cross contamination
- Too much or too little oxygen
- Temperature fluctuations
- Too much or too little moisture
Along with solving all these issues and more, packaging must also offer a desirable aesthetic to ensure that customers actually want to buy the products. In this case, products such as cling film and polyolefin shrink wrap are a fantastic choice, as they can help protect products against a number of the issues listed above, whilst still showing the product itself at its best!
How Does Packaging Extend Shelf Life?
Every product needs something a little different in terms of packaging, so there is no “one rule fits all”. Each case must be considered individually to decide on what the best method of packaging would be. For example, strawberries need some oxygen to keep them fresh and a soft cushion to stop them from bruising. The packaging of strawberries has therefore been designed to offer a low level of oxygen flow through holes in the top of the packaging, as well as with a cushioned base such as bubble wrap or a cushioned plastic pad to stop the product from bruising.
Products such as broccoli and cauliflower dry out when exposed to the air, so polyolefin shrink film is a great option to keep the product in good condition. This prevents cross contamination, controls the oxygen flow and offers a thin layer of protection. By offering a protective layer, the packaging acts as a multi-tool to keep the conditions inside the plastic at its optimum, whilst offering a barrier from other factors outside of the packaging.
Something else that must be considered is the oxygen levels in products that are shrink wrapped, vacuum packed or sealed. They need to be processed in a controlled environment to ensure that the air trapped inside will not cause the products to wilt or degrade. There is an optimum level that must be reached to allow the product to survive, and any bad bacteria not to. Mushrooms, for example, need a very specific level of oxygen to keep them fresh; this is usually around 4/5% oxygen. Products such as lettuce or potatoes are often sealed in bags with tiny slits, invisible to the naked eye, to allow a flow of air without any risk of bacteria entering.
Although packaging is a large aid in extending the shelf life of products, it is a joint effort between the conditions in which the product is kept, as well as the packaging. For example, some fresh produce must be kept in the fridge, so the packaging will need to be designed to thrive in those conditions and not deteriorate. As innovations continue, the packaging industry thrives on each new challenge, bettering their offerings and creating an environment where produce can stay at its best for as long as possible. This not only saves on cost but also cuts down food waste and can help the environment.