The food supply chain is like a race against time, where freshness is preserved in relays all the way to the consumer's table. This journey is accompanied by a risk of loss with serious consequences for both the environment and pocketbooks. Vegetable growers, processors, food packers and retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, consumers, the planet: there are no winners with food waste.
Depending on their properties, packaging solutions can help preserve the integrity of food right up to the finish line.
A protective function for healthy food
Safety is a constant concern in the food industry. Recalls of foods, meats or other items impact the physical and financial health of consumers and businesses. Eliminating the risks associated with contaminants and blocking dangerous pathogens helps prevent them.
To prevent premature spoilage, food must be protected from external contaminants, be in a beneficial environment and kept at an appropriate temperature, and be protected from impacts and damage. These functions can be served by food packaging, provided a container adapted to the product is used. How do we achieve this?
An oxygen barrier that breathes new life
Modified atmosphere technology is one of the means used to lengthen the conservation time of foods. "Barrier" packaging is specifically designed to prevent the exchange of air between the container and the outside. It's possible to slow down the aging of food products by replacing the air in the container with neutral or active gases.
Modified atmosphere packaging is particularly effective for products rich in bacteria or fat, such as oils, meats and poultry. Replacing the ambient air (which contains oxygen) with nitrogen (a neutral gas) slows the growth of aerobic bacteria and prevents food from going rancid by reducing its contact with oxygen. Adding other gases such as carbon dioxide, which has a bactericidal effect, can also be a wise choice for some products. Some packaging is thus able to double the shelf life of fresh proteins by trapping the beneficial gases in the package and preventing the ambient air from entering.
The properties of a package can increase the proteins' longevity without the need for sterilization or the addition of artificial preservatives.
Temperature control: preserving the right balance
Each food has its ideal preservation temperature. The differences between this temperature and the ones it actually experiences impact its shelf life. For example, the number of bacteria can double in twenty minutes for certain meats and poultry left at room temperature. Optimal temperature management can help reduce food loss through good control of the cold chain.
Home delivery of food poses a particular challenge: preserving freshness right to the consumer's door in sometimes extreme weather conditions. Innovative insulation technologies enable meal boxes to maintain an ideal temperature for hours.
Making an informed choice
The materials used to manufacture a package also impact its preservation function. Various factors can guide this choice, including the food's recommended storage temperature, the relative humidity of the contents, and how the food reacts to light exposure.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) is the plastic widely used to make water bottles. Its barrier properties, rigidity and recyclability potential make it an interesting material for food packaging eco-design.
Cardboard packaging can also be a good choice for certain foods. When covered with an adapted coating solution, it can resist moisture and leaks while remaining recyclable. With this coating, cardboard can be used for many applications and replace other materials that are more difficult to recycle. Bin, box, basket, tray: cardboard takes different forms depending on the products it carries and the customers' needs.
Carefully select and test solutions
Whether in Québec, Canada or the United States, the figures related to food waste are food for thought. Among other solutions, packaging is an ally in this battle when it is designed for the food it carries.
Laboratory tests can also guide the selection of optimal materials and technologies. By reproducing the anticipated environmental conditions for the product, such as extreme heat, it is possible to identify avenues for improvement until an ideal prototype is obtained.
Subject matter experts
Cascades relies on a team of research and development experts to develop eco-responsible, efficient food packaging. We work with our customers to create and test innovative solutions that preserve the freshness of their food and protect the environment.