The use of polymer materials in food packaging field is one of the largest growing market areas. In the optimization behaviour of packaging structure, permeability is of crucial importance, in order to extend the food shelf-life and to reach the best engineering solution.
Studying the permeability characteristics of different polymer materials (homogeneous and heterogeneous polymer systems) to different packaging gases, in different environmental condition, is crucial to understand if the selected material is adapted to the chosen food contact field. Temperature and humidity parameters are of crucial importance for food quality preservation, especially in real life situations, like market, and long-life use.
Packaging Technologies to minimize food wastage
Major change in consumer lifestyles, large retail groups and food service industries have started using highly competitive mix of marketing and trading strategies.
Number of methodologies of packaging technology for food has developed over the years. Active & intelligent packaging are some of the newly introduced concepts in the market. Packaging is the most important aspect of product design.
It is an innovative packaging technology that involves incorporation of certain additives into packaging film or within packaging containers by which package, product and environment interact to prolong shelf life or enhance safety or sensory properties as well maintain the quality of the food product.
Extensive work done worldwide have established feasibility of producing active packaging films based on polyethylene structures to delay ripening of bananas & other fruits & vegetables. This simple technology alone can minimize post- harvest losses & wastage & contribute to increase in exports of high - quality spotless banana & other fruits. A study of the polymer-gas transfer relationship is vital to the correct design for the specific variety of banana fruit.
In recent years, the brand owners of Indian sweetmeats have explored the use of oxygen scavengers by introducing sachets or packets containing these additives to eliminate oxygen, which is responsible for oxidation of oil, ghee & similar sweets. This example illustrates the spirit of entrepreneurship & leadership by the Indian food industry. This technology provides an opportunity for minimizing wastage of sweets & also enhance export capabilities to cater to the ever-growing demand of expats for “Home-like” sweets in foreign countries. Ladoos & Mohanthal are some examples where business opportunities can be exciting. Therefore, a study of the polymer-gas interactions is vital to control the oxidation process.
This type of packaging is capable of carrying out intelligent functions (Sensing, detecting, tracing, recording and communicating) to facilitate decision making to extend shelf life, improve quality, enhance safety, provide information and warn about possible problems.
Although the use of sensors on the outer face of the pack is deemed intelligent to indicate spoilage & provide better indicator of shelf life of the product, the technology is far too expensive to be adopted for commodity products like milk, fruit juice & other categories of beverages.
Future of Packaging and plastics packaging in particular, the largest single end use market in global plastics consumption, is undergoing governmental and environmental scrutiny across the world. Today, the pressure is on all in the packaging supply chain, from retailers, to packaging manufacturers, right through to raw material suppliers to develop everyday 'green' products. Knowing what the next 'green' sustainable trends are in the packaging world from an emerging plastics material, processing, and application standpoint is a must across the packaging supply chain in order for companies to enhance their environmental credentials
Future Research Domains.
Major fundamental research and information needs are necessary to advance the field of food packaging vis-à-vis packaging materials, including biomaterials. The following is a summary of some of the issues identified.
Materials Science and Technology.
Scalping and migration of components, such as flavors, presents major challenges during development of new packaging materials. Three key research areas that need to be explored.
1) Kinetics of release and absorption.
Kinetics is a bridge between food science and packaging. Understanding the kinetics of release and/or absorption of the various food components (such as flavors and odors) or package components (such as controlled release packaging materials, as needed for active packaging) is critical to the development of appropriate packaging materials for specific foods.
A better understanding of the kinetics of release, which varies with compounds, is necessary in order to develop materials that allow sustained delivery. Kinetic constants for each component in a multi-component system would be required in order to identify the optimum packaging materials. Development of a packaging material to minimize absorption of a food component requires knowledge of absorption kinetics to ensure that desired shelf-life of the product can be achieved.
Permselectivity is the ratio of the permeability coefficient of carbon dioxide to that of oxygen. The general relationship is that as permeability increases, selectivity invariably decreases. The magnitude of the desired Permselectivity will vary with product due to the unique local atmosphere (carbon dioxide/oxygen) needed to extend the shelf-life of each product. Research on development of materials with high permeability, while minimizing selectivity is needed.
Packaging materials with a range of Permselectivity magnitudes (depending on desired shelf life) are needed for improvement of shelf life of a variety of products. For example, materials with high Permselectivity are desired for controlled atmosphere packaging for fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables. Development of materials with optimized permeation rates for specific food products is also desired.
3) Barrier properties.
Barrier to physical, chemical and biological influences is an important property of packaging materials. Existing materials could be modified, or new materials developed with improved barrier properties. Also, materials that maintain high barrier properties with changing temperature and humidity are desired.
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